In her “Games Can Make a Better World” TED Talk, Jane McGonigal discusses four gamer qualities that will contribute to improving humanity: Blissful Productivity, Social Fabric, Urgent Optimism, and Epic Meaning.

According to McGonigal, games promote Social Fabric because playing games with others involves an incredible amount of trust, whether it is playing by the same shared rules, agreeing to chase the same goals, or stick with a challenge or mission together the entire time.

During our course on Video Games & Learning, we wanted to explore games that help explore and cultivate Social Fabric. Below are three video games that approach Social Fabric in unique ways.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

The premise of Keep Talking is clear - one person in the game enters a room with a ticking briefcase and some complex modules on said briefcase, along with a countdown timer. In the limited time allotted, the player in the game must describe the ticking bomb’s modules to his or her fellow players, who each have access to a long-winded instruction manual. Those teammates need to find a way to explain the methods to disarm the bomb to the player in the game without making any mistakes.

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Social Fabric is all about trusting your fellow teammate not to lead you astray and put you in danger - Keep Talking is a perfect example of this concept. Players realize that they must ask meaningful questions, convey information in new ways, and respect fellow players’ frustrations with the limited information each person has.

Way

In a departure from Keep Talking, what if you needed to work together to solve puzzles with another player, but you had no form of verbal communication? In Way, you can see your partner and see your world, but you cannot see all of the obstacles in your world. Your partner, however, can see the obstacles, and they must communicate these obstacles to you using nonverbal communication.

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Way explores social fabric through the creation of a new, nonverbal language you create with your partner. Teams of two developed hand gestures, signs, and representations of the physical space that became agreed-upon norms in the game, then used these communications to complete the challenges. Way places a lot of trust on two strangers committing to the norms they have established and sticking with your partner through many failures and iterations.

Minecraft: Education Edition

A game that needs no explanation, Minecraft: Education Edition might rival The Oregon Trail for the most ubiquitous edugame in existence. Our twist to develop Social Fabric was quite simple: unite teams of three in the class to work together to survive and develop a societal “totem” that best represented their group. In the challenge, groups lost points for every member of their team who died and gained points for impressing the judges with their creations. With a common goal to unite them, the teams made sure everyone in their team had enough food, shelter from mobs (re: bad guys) in the game, and supplies handy to design their totem.

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It was fascinating to see how many of our students were already so well-versed in Minecraft without us even mentioning a tutorial or to be prepared to play before class. Even those who had never played seemed to thrive because others felt invested in their success and well-being, a definite component of Social Fabric.

Takeaways

Although you might not have access to Keep Talking, Way, and Minecraft, how can you develop activities or exercises that help students develop a sense of Social Fabric? How can you design mechanics of your course to include mutual interest in success?

A colleague of mine mentioned that some fields and courses experimented in team testing - the idea of grouping students together during the course, then pulling one of their tests as the score for the entire group at major assessment intervals. Imagine how motivated you would be to ensure that every member of your group knew the content and felt confident in their abilities! Although it may be nigh impossible to implement such a strategy in your role, how can you inspire that same sense of mutual benefit to collaborative learning?

If you are interested in having students analyze the McGonigal Gamer Skills she identifies in the aforementioned TED Talk and the 21st Century Learner Traits in these games, this handy Google Doc should do the trick.

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