When students return in September, one group of sixth graders wont have to leave their Nintendos at home. Theyre the inaugural class of
Quest to Learn
, a new 6th to 12th grade public school in Manhattan built on a controversial idea: using videogames to power education. The schools hip young executive director and self-described game geek, Katie Salen, thinks its a necessary way to boost math skills, and reduce the citys 48% dropout rate. These are digital kids, she says, theyve already transformed our society, why not education?
The school nicknamed Q2L will be the first of its kind in the country, and a model for others to come. Its designed by the Institute of Play - a local non-profit that develops game education programs for government, academia, and industry and New Visions for Public Schools, the largest education reform group in the city. Teachers will use games as a learning tool and also instruct students in interactive design. Videogames such as Civilization will be used to teach history, and literature courses will examine, say, the narrative arc of Halo 3. Instead of standard courses in English or math, classes will be based on the game-like idea of missions, with specific quests students must complete over the term. In a language course, for example, kids will be tasked with teaching Spanish to a group of aliens on a distant planet. The work is done using Skype audio chat software and a special computer game designed by Q2Ls staff.
While this is groundbreaking for a public grade school, game studies are becoming more engrained in higher education around the world. Schools from Stanford to the University of London offer courses in game design and theory. Nintendo sponsors the DigiPen game college in Seattle. The emerging discipline of Ludology the study of games has its own conferences, academic journals, and professional organizations. Salen is less focused on churning out game designers than in stimulating and motivating a new generation of students. Q2L, which will be housed on 23rd street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, will feature an interactive media lab, Xbox development kits, and guest speakers from the game industry.