Based on evaluations by the game’s developers, as well as an independent evaluation conducted by researchers from the Institute for Learning Innovation, there is evidence of learning. After analyzing forum postings, the developers found that the data appear to be pointing to the use of inquiry behaviors. Players made predictions about what hunting and mate-finding strategies might work, tested those predictions, analyzed the results through the use of observation and note-taking skills, and worked with their pack mates to develop new strategies. One player analyzed his maneuvers as follows: “[As a wolf], I had trouble with social behavior. I also had to keep up with hunting, and trying not to die. Survival of the fittest. I tested being dominant over the stranger wolves, and how to save energy for hunting. Once I found a mate, everything got easier.”
Schaller and Spickelmier also discovered that the players sought out additional wolf-related experiences as a result of their experience with the game. More than 80 percent of participants looked up information on the Web; watched a television show or video about wolves; read about wolves in books, magazines, or newspapers; or talked about the game with family and friends. About 70 percent of the players visited a zoo, nature center, or park to actually see wolves and other wildlife. Interestingly, it appears that the more frequently individuals played the game, the more likely they were to engage in one of these follow-up behaviors.
Extrapolating from these findings, it appears that game-playing has potential as a tool that can be used to build knowledge and inquiry behaviors and even lead to additional activities related to wolves and nature. These learning gains, Spickelmier notes, happen as part of the game. As intended, the players don’t even realize that they are applying science. They’re just trying out different ways to make their wolves successful in their environment.
“In the world of games in which these kids have grown up,” says Spickelmier, “they expect to have some control over their learning. Maybe that’s why they like games so much. For them, the ability to manipulate their environment is the way education is done.”6