political concerns around a gaming series based on global sustainability (Brown, 1992). Such a curriculum might have been difficult to implement in schools that teach biology but not ecology, or that do not link either biology or ecology to economics and political science. DeVane, Durga, and Squire (2009) adapted Civilization to connect these topics, addressing food shortages, agricultural policy, trade relations, and environmental concerns. They reported that participants developed a type of systemic thinking about these topics across geopolitical systems (see Squire and Durga, in press). Pursuing this kind of broad educational goal may be much more feasible in informal settings than in classrooms focusing on individual academic disciplines.
As a voluntary after-school option, participants chose to take part in the gaming club over playing basketball, cooking, or scouting. Reflecting its voluntary nature, many students resisted taking pretests or posttests, making assessment difficult. As a result of this voluntary nature, informal educators are much more concerned with building and sustaining student interest than most formal educators (National Research Council, 2009). In fact, informal science educators have the unique opportunity to pursue goals that would be difficult to achieve in formalized settings.
When used in informal settings, games and simulations offer students opportunities to develop highly individualized interests and pursuits. Researchers have found that many students who participate in informal educational programs using information technology develop deep interest and expertise in areas ranging from computer programming to historical modeling (Bruckman, Jensen, and DeBonte, 2002; Resnick, Rusk, and Cooke, 1998; Squire, 2008a, 2008b). Such students develop learning communities that—like games culture in general—are built on a valuing of expertise (Squire, 2008b). In these learning communities, one’s background or formal educational credentials are less important than one’s ability to meet (and at times push the boundaries of) community norms. To illustrate this potential to individualize learning, Figure 4-1 depicts the trajectory of game players as they move from being competent players to becoming expert designers in Apolyton University. Apolyton University is an online informal learning environment that uses the narrative of a university and offers Civilization players various courses leading to credentials (“master’s degrees” in the story line). Players participating in courses that require extended game-playing (upward of 100 hours) develop personalized and idiosyncratic skills that arise from an intersection among their interests, the affordances of the game, and the pathways made available in the game-playing community (Bruckman, Jensen, and DeBonte, 2002; DeVane, Durga, and Squire, 2009; Resnick, Rusk, and Cooke, 1998).