This book started as a paper exploring unexpected tensions of freedom vs control which emerged out of our idealistic/activist design experiment, Quest Atlantis (QA)—a 3D multiuser virtual world with a rich backstory that supported the learning of over 100,000 elementary and middle-school students on five continents. Aware of the mass and confusion of messages offered to children in our contemporary society, critical theorists such as Giroux, McLaren, and Lather have asserted that the new ‘educators’ in the 21st century are those who possess the vision and finances to use mass media. These theorists argue that the implicit challenge is to become educators in this new sense – engaging our children’s tendencies toward entertaining, dramatic play – as well as to remain true to our purposes of helping children develop practical, meaningful, and life-fulfilling skills. It was with this provisional understanding that we developed a virtual play space designed to create a compelling learning context for kids. So, it was through in reflecting on the tensions in supporting thousands of kids and teachers around the world that this book emerged. While most of our other work is more “academic,” finding homes in peer-reviewed academic journals, this book was meant to address a more diverse and a more personal audience. It is our belief that all of us are, at some level, educators and that as a society we have forgotten the importance of play as an important component of the educational process. With QA, we set out with a lot of idealism and energy. We’re pro-kid.
Because our experiences have been so visceral, so visual, so aesthetically-oriented and complex, we used the ‘design’ of this piece to embed the reader in an experience that is both playful and sometimes difficult. In this way, we have tried to create a ‘playful’ book that the reader experiences—not simply reads. We have tried to do this by developing a heavily designed e-book that invites our “adult” readers into a phenomenological space with at least the flavor of the core tensions associated with learning through play and videogames. While designed for printing, we have found that the e-book offers a meaningful experience for those with whom we piloted the content.
This book is written for curriculum designers, curriculum educators, K-12 teachers, parents, and the interested public who want to understand more about the power and challenges of play in general and videogames in particular. We hope that this book will serve as a catalyst for interesting conversations about the power of play and new media in this digital age. We hope the reader will also develop a richer respect for why videogames have become one of the dominant play media of our time, and for the importance (and challenges) of harnessing this power to do good. We especially hope that this book will inspire parents and teachers to appreciate the educational power of play.