Changing the Game: What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom? is an interesting new article (registration required) by Kurt Squire on his experience using Civilization III to teach high school history.
In my study, failure was not only a “problem” but also a critical precondition for learning. Failure forced students to confront gaps or flaws in their current understandings through cycles of recursive play. As one student explained, “Playing the game forces you to learn about the material. It actually forces you to learn about other civilizations in order to survive.” For this student, failure necessitated learning the identities, origins, and resources of various civilizations through cycles of identifying problems, developing causal interpretations of events, brainstorming possible solutions, implementing solutions, and examining results. After going through these cycles of recursive play, students’ thinking became more complex. Success and even survival in the game required deep thinking across diverse problem spaces.