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Serious Games Summit: Henry Jenkins keynote

Kyle Orland

I'm here at the Serious Games Summit in Arlington, VA where the keyword of the keynote speech by MIT's Henry Jenkins was convergence. Not necessarily technological convergence -- that mythical, magical black box that will control your media and your life -- but a cultural convergence that allows a community to form a collective intelligence around a game, movie or TV show. The real appeal of media experiences today, Jenkins argued, is not necessarily the product itself, but the community that grows around it, the participatory culture that doesn't come in the box.

Jenkins urged the serious games movement to keep this in mind when designing the educational and socially relevant games the conference is focused on. He challenged the diverse crowd of experts from the government, education, military, health and social change fields to create educational games that were less like a spelling bee (high on memorization, low on discussion and engagement) and more like Scrabble (high on experimentation, low on penalties for risk). Jenkins also echoed Will Wright's call for games that are interdisciplinary, that take on multiple agendas instead of just narrowly focusing on one subject.

With the final part of his speech, Jenkins focused on specific projects trying to achieve these goals -- games like Revolution, a Neverwinter Nights mod that encourages students to role-play as a colonial patriot, and Labyrinth, an upcoming game that teaches math and logic skills on top of a search for a lost pet. Jenkins also acknowledged the challenges of getting these products out to market (some teachers refused to buy Revolution because of occult symbols in Neverwinter Nights, for instance), but seemed hopeful that companies could break through these barriers by joining together.

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