It is an open secret that games have always been an inseparable part of human activities but as far as learning is concerned their role has always been a subject of heated debate. What is the reason for this controversy?
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First it should be mentioned that in the overwhelming majority of cases any game is about winning or losing and this rule cannot be entirely applied to learning because of certain aims, which must be achieved and there must not be any losers in the learning process. Therefore, methodologists and teachers are trying to solve this dilemma.
Now it is quite advisable to discuss the very nature of game. First, it is important to define the game; so, game is considered to be any recreational type of activity which has a certain set of rules and is used as an entertaining or educational tool. Speaking about the main constituent components of game, we should mention the following: first, any game should give some intellectual pleasure, or at least relaxation; the next component of the game is its goal which can lead the player to the victory; then, any game is a kind of mental or physical competition of the participants; the game has certain rules which can be either complex or simple; one of the component is the strategy used by the players in different situations.
Let us focus attention on such variety of games as simulation games in particular. To some extent, any simulation game involves reenactment of some life situations like for instance war games or role-playing games (Smith, 5).
For our analysis, we have chosen a well-known simulation game, which is called “Peacemaker”. As far as the general background of this program is concerned, we must mention the following facts. First, this product was developed by the Canadian company “Impact Games” in 2004. This game is inspired by the real events in the Middle East, to be more exact by the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The main goal of the game is to establish peace between these two countries. The player can take the role of either the Israeli Prime Minister or the Palestinian President and the main task is to establish peace during his term of office.
It should be mentioned that the game has three difficulty levels depending upon the skills of the player; these levels are calm, tense, and violent, which means that the relations between the two countries can be more or less tense and it only depends on the player’s ability to regulate them.
Another peculiarity of this game is that the player would have to react to the events, which are based on real footage. It is also worth mentioning that the authority, which is given to the player, is very limited and we cannot say that he assumes control over the entire county; on the contrary he or she will have to gain support of other men of power and there will be people who will try to disrupt peace negotiations.
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It is also of utmost importance that the game “Peacemaker” does not provide any instant solutions, so every step, which is taken by a player, is very important.
A person, who play this game should also bear in mind that the opposite side is also hankering for peace although at first glance it may seem that its true motives are deeply concealed the only thing that the opposite side wants, is to gain victory over the enemy. Nevertheless, as it has already been mentioned before the only victory a player can score is to establish a fair and sustainable peace.
Therefore, we may draw the conclusion that this game can be classified as a policy making game but the question arises how it can be used as a learning tool and what is the range of its application.
The analysis of the game in terms of its component significance shows that they take strong position in terms of amusement and education. The game is complicated and it allows its players to develop different strategies plans to reach the goal of making peace between two countries. It has a positive mood and involves the players into the world historical events. All the components of the game are strong making it useful and interesting at the same time.
According to the utilization-focused approach the stakeholders of the game can be the following: learners, administrator groups, teachers and community. Their needs in this game can be successfully satisfied by the improvement of high order skills.
If we try to assess this program as a learning tool, we must first be fully aware of existing learning styles. It seems prudent to follow the classification given by David Kolb. He believes that there are four learning style and each one has its own peculiar features. The scholar distinguishes diverging, assimilating, converging, and accommodating learning styles.
People who prefer diverging learning style usually tend to look at any phenomenon from different points of view; as a rule they are sensitive and more inclined to observation rather than action. At first, they attempt to gather information and then try to settle a problem using their imagination. Usually these people have a wide range of cultural interests; they usually tend to be very imaginative and emotional (Kolb, 92). The main peculiarity is that these people are usually very good at brainstorming and teamwork in general. The game “Peacemaker” can be very beneficial for people, who prefer this type of learning because it requires analytical thinking, cultural awareness, and the ability to negotiate.
The second type of learning according to Kolbs classification is called “assimilating”. As a rule, it requires logical and concise approach. People, who prefer this type of learning, can easily summarize a wide range of information and come up with a solution to the problem. Overall, these people like lectures, readings, and researching some analytical models. It is quite possible to say that “Peacemaker” can be of great use for them because the player should be able to analyze wide-range information and come up with a clear and logical conclusion. So, their skills can be very useful.
The third type of learning is called “converging” People with this mental set usually tend to look for some practical application of their knowledge. As a rule they are very good at some technical tasks rather that at interpersonal relationships. These people like to simulate, to experiment with new ideas, but in general, they are more interested in the practical side, to a certain extent they always try to make use of theories and ideas (Kolb, 92). If people with this type of learning try to play this game, they may find it very interesting because it is a constant quest of practical step-by-step solutions. Thus, we may conclude that this game is quite suitable for such learners.
The fourth and the last type of learning according to David Kolb is called “accommodating”. People with this learning style usually tend to rely on the analysis made by other people. As a rule, they prefer to act on their intuition rather than logical analysis. They are very good at teamwork and do not usually like to act on their own. If people with this mind-set some kind of objective they try different means methods to achieve it. At first glance, it may seem that the game we are discussing would be of no use for them because these people do not seem to be born leaders but their ability to find different approaches to a certain problem can be extremely helpful.
Taking into account the learning tools of the game we should underline the following objectives of it: analytical thinking, decision making, strategy developing, memory, ability to learn.
Now we can make the conclusion that the game “Peacemaker” can be to a certain extent appropriate to all types of learners; we have to answer the question how this policy game can be applied to lessons. First it must be mentioned that policy developing games include ever-changing environment and the role of human facilitator will be of great importance and online support will be needed let alone constant access to the internet (Parker, 55).
What is to be mentioned that the players must also be very familiar with the historical background of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians because without the knowledge of this particular aspect it would be next to impossible for the players to alleviate the between the two countries.
On the whole, we can say that “Peacemaker” is a thought provoking game requiring developing good analytical thinking, patience, ability to make a compromise and find an approach to other people. Undoubtedly, all these skills can be invaluable as far as interpersonal relationships are concerned. The only drawback we can mention is that developers did not provide sufficient historic date as to the causes of the conflict between the two countries.
Therefore, we may arrive at the conclusion that policy-making games can be of great use for learners because they develop interpersonal and analytical skills. However, we must say that their practical application requires further research.
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Harasim, R.,Hiltz, S. R., Teles, L., & Turoff, M. (1995) Learning networks: A field guide to teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Lewin, K. (1951). Field theory in social science. New York: Harper and Row.
Parker, C. M., Swatman, P. M. C. (1999). An Internet-mediated business simulation: Developing and using TRECS. Simulation & Gaming, 30, 51-69.
Smith, R. D.(2000). Strategic directions for distributed simulation. Simulation 2000 Series, 2.