Investigating: Possible applications of First Person Perspective/Shooter games in education

Yep, it’s this old hobby-horse again but I still believe that FPP/FPS games can prove useful in education. Research into this field is still a little scant but I have found some useful stuff – not just about using these games in military training either.

This is the proposal that I’ve put together for a uni project to investigate these options – now I have a whopping great 21 days to put together the 6400 words I’ve promised to deliver (and 2 game prototypes – or at least designs)

Creating the First Person Learner: Educational Applications of the First Person Shooter game genre.

1. Abstract
Gameplay in First Person Shooter (FPS) games is generally highly structured with the player given limited options in terms of the paths they can take and the decisions that they can make. They are often taught a specific skill, practise it for a period of time and when they have adequately demonstrated it, they are given progressively more advanced skills.

This often reflects students’ initial experiences of Vocational Education and Training (VET), during which they spend large amounts of time methodically developing foundation skills and knowledge in their chosen discipline.
This proposal describes a study that aims to investigate the potential uses of First Person Shooter style games as learning tools for students in the VET sector. It will centre around identifying the unique characteristics of the FPS genre and examining ways in which varying educational approaches might be applied to the design of FPS style games for these learners.

2. Introduction
While the use of computer games in education has been widely researched in recent years (Prensky, 2006), a significant focus of this research has been on the development of higher level skills such as problem solving and collaboration in third-person perspective games and particularly virtual worlds such as Second Life. (Kay, 2007)

Much less attention has been paid to the first person perspective genre, typified by the highly popular (and sometimes controversial) First Person Shooter. An initial scan of educational and games research however has indicated that this genre possesses a number of relatively unique characteristics that mesh well with behaviourist, cognitivist and even constructivist approaches to education.

Robyler and Havriluk (1997) point out that among the “needs addressed by directed instruction” (their term for the Behaviourist approach) are “making learning paths more efficient… especially for instruction in skills that are prerequisite to higher-level skills” and “performing time-consuming and labor intensive tasks (e.g., skill practice), freeing teacher time for other, more complex student needs”.

In 2005, Oliver and Pelletier devised a methodology which permitted a detailed analysis of how people learn from particular instances of game play. They compared a player of an FPS game (Deux Ex) who played a level having previously used a training level with one who had not. Unsurprisingly, the player who had played the heavily structured and repetitive training level first progressed through the level far more quickly than the second player and also mastered a number of essential skills that the second player did not.

In 2001, Fuchs and Eckermann developed Expositur – ein virtueller Wissenraum, a game based collaborative project showcasing ten Viennese museums. This first person perspective knowledge space, built using the Unreal FPS game engine, made use of loci, a place based mnemotechnique dating back to the ancient Greeks, to enhance the meaning of its virtual museum exhibits by “connecting seemingly unrelated imagery to gain insight into visual similarities and connotations”(p.84).

They considered “the freedom of the user to go his or her own way in the virtual environment as an important feature that allows for individually shaped relational networks inside a complex field of knowledge”(p.84), which ties in well with Ertmer and Newby’s description of knowledge acquisition under Cognitivism as “a mental activity that entails internal coding and structuring by the learner”. (1993, p.58).

Some researchers have also investigated the use of FPS games to develop higher level skills in decision making and problem solving using authentic and immersive scenario based learning approaches commonly found in the constructivist approach to education. (Colvin, Clark & Mayer, 2007). Barlow and Lewis from the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) presented a paper to the SimTecT conference in 2005 discussing their use of a customised FPS game (Operation Flashpoint) to develop and examine the tactical decision making skills of ADFA students in a variety of authentic scenarios.

I believe that elements from all of these approaches can be successfully integrated into an FPS based learning game, whether it be a drill based reinforcement of key concepts, using the arrangement of information in three dimensional space as a cognitive aid or engaging students with an authentic and immersive scenario based learning experience.

3. Methodology
This project will draw on the ADDIE instructional systems design model. This is a five stage process involving Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation and represents “a dynamic, flexible guideline for building effective training and performance support tools”. (Wikipedia, 2008) Given time and resource constraints, the project will focus on the first three stages of the ADDIE process.

In the Analysis phase I will initially seek to answer a number of questions which will give me a better idea of the strengths of the FPS genre, suitable content and activities for the games, evaluation strategies and pedagogical approaches to developing these games. Given my stated aim of examining games suitable for VET students, this will initially involve identifying particular types of structured tasks that would be appropriate to this form however all options will be considered as they arise.

Some of the key questions to be considered are:
What is the anatomy of an FPS game?
How do FPS games differ from third person perspective and virtual world games and what advantages do they offer?
How can FPS games be educational?
What kind of educational approaches lend themselves to this type of games based learning?
What are the factors that might determine the most appropriate target audience for an FPS based learning game?
What impact might game violence or destruction of virtual objects have on the learning experience?
In what circumstances might game violence or destruction of objects be appropriate in a learning activity?
Do single player and multiplayer games support different educational approaches?

A number of game design questions will also be considered including:
To what extent does the level of realistic representation of the learners’ environment affect their engagement with the game?
What makes a game enjoyable and what makes a player want to play a game repeatedly?

In answering these questions I will draw on existing research into the use of games in education in general then focus on the use of FPS games and environments specifically.

I have a growing list of game oriented resources at
which will be my first port of call. From there I’ll also look into writing from Marc Prensky, James Gee, the Serious Games Initiative, Constance Steinkuehler, Jack Thompson and other games in education writers and theorists as a starting point.

I will also make contact with Barlow and Lewis at ADFA and teachers at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment, a respected game design school in Canberra.

Based on the findings of this research, I will develop design statements for and build prototypes of two small games using FPS Creator, a game development software package. These games will serve to demonstrate some of the possible practical applications of the FPS game genre in education.

5. Results and Discussion
Assessment of this project will centre around a final report which documents and discusses the outcomes of this research. This report will examine the methodology used and outline the answers found to the questions listed earlier. It will consider the success or failure of my attempts to integrate learning strategies into FPS based games and consider approaches for future developments of educational games.

During the course of the project I will regularly discuss the use of games and particularly FPS games in education by posting observations and reflections on my edublog at This reflection process will enable me to formulate my ideas and seek feedback from the wider games in education community. I will include a summary of these posts as an appendix to the report.

I will also include an annotated bibliography of the six most significant publications that I find in my research .

Due date:
June 13, 2008
Final Report – Methodology and findings
4000 words

June 13, 2008
Annotated Bibliography (6 x 200 words)
1200 words

June 13, 2008
1200 words

June 13, 2008
Game prototypes x 2

Easy right? 🙂

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2 Responses to Investigating: Possible applications of First Person Perspective/Shooter games in education

  1. Leonard Low says:

    I had an interesting thought occur to me the other day as I was reading a review on the controversial (damned and acclaimed) FPS game, Grand Theft Auto (GTA) IV. One of the game’s supporters was defending the game by saying that players DO NOT LEARN ANYTHING from FPS games like GTA. He was, of course, specifically referring to the violent and antisocial behaviours that are possible in GTA… but naturally, I thought about your thesis here, as (out of context) it appears to be diametrically opposed to the idea that FPS games might be useful for learning!

    How do you distinguish between the “learning” that does NOT occur in GTA IV, and the learning that might be accomplished in FPS “edugames”?

    Just a tough question to get your mind churning now you’re back from your adventures overseas. 🙂


  2. colinsimpson says:

    Well that’s easy Len, I don’t accept the premise that people don’t learn anything from games like GTA IV.

    The supporter of the game was probably taking a defensive position intended to disarm criticism of the game that it encourages anti-social behaviour (which is a spurious claim in itself anyway). They may well also genuinely believe that they don’t learn anything from the game itself (possibly seeing learning as uncool or something imposed on them at the expense of fun) but they’re wrong.

    At the most basic level you learn the controls of the game, you learn about the characteristics of the objects that you interact with in the game, you learn about the characters that you interact with, the conventions of the story/genre/environment, you develop strategies for dealing with obstacles and most of all you learn by trying something and failing. Add to this the world of Russian crime types in modern day New York, what happens if you drive drunk (apparently) and other stuff I’m still managing to avoid knowing about and you have a whole virtual world of learning.

    I’m surprised if there’s any time not spent learning. 🙂

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