concepts than the traditional classroom
students, showed higher engagement,
and demonstrated increased intrinsic
motivation (Arici, 2008; Hickey et al., in
press). When these groups were tested
two months later, the students who
learned through the virtual game
remembered more science content than
the traditionally taught students did
As one teacher who used the fractions
unit in Quest Atlantis’s math world
The kids [were] not [acting as] 5th
graders. They had a task. They had a
mission, and anytime you . . . invite the
kids to be something other than a
student, you’re going to automatically see
motivational gains. There’s a lot more
perseverance. There was a lot of reading
to be done, but kids were sticking with it.
If I handed them a textbook, I would not
see the same endurance.
inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Once teachers assign the unit to their
class, students can travel to a village
named Ingolstadt. As they interact with
local villagers, they develop a position
about whether the local doctor (Dr.
Frank) should be allowed to create an
artificial life form in the hopes of finding
a cure for the plague afflicting the town.
Let’s look at how playing Digital
Prometheus engages students in inter-
travel through town. As players
encounter characters, each player can
interview them about what has been
happening. Each character responds
with a programmed script describing
that person’s experiences with the
plague and giving an opinion about Dr.
Frank’s effort to stop the epidemic.
The core tension is that the doctor
has created a living creature; he is experimenting on that creature with the
FIGURE 2. Screenshots from the Digital Prometheus Game
Our virtual quests expand on strategies associated with project-based
curriculums. We focus on building
game-based learning environments in
which students play an important role,
using academic knowledge to make
decisions that influence, for better or
worse, the designed storyline. Thus,
these virtual spaces transform learners
in three ways: ( 1) they transform a
person from a passive recipient to an
empowered actor, ( 2) they transform
content from information that the
learner has to remember to a tool that
the learner can use to accomplish
desired ends, and ( 3) they transform
context from an assurance that “this
knowledge will be relevant in the
future” to a present reality that responds
to the learner’s actions.
The top scenes represent what the virtual village looks like if a player frees the creature; the bottom scenes, the outcome if the creature remains captive.
esting problems, makes curriculum
content relevant, and teaches students
that their content-influenced actions
A Promethean Task
We can best illustrate our approach
through an example of how students
interact within one of our virtual
worlds, Digital Prometheus.
Our instructional goal in this unit
was to foster persuasive writing by
immersing students in ethical dilemmas
Establishing a Meaningful Role
Transformational play begins with a
scenario that sets a goal. This motivates
players and demands a deep understanding of content. In Digital
Prometheus, each player first reads a
letter sent to his in-game e-mail from his
or her mother, pleading with the player
to visit Ingolstadt, which is being
destroyed by a plague. The message asks
the player to talk to Dr. Frank and the
local newspaper editor.
Using onscreen menus, players enter
Ingolstadt and direct their avatars to
hopes of finding a cure. The player’s role
as a persuasive writer is established
when the editor of the paper asks him
or her to build an argument about
whether or not the doctor’s behavior is
ethical. Succeeding in this role requires
that the player understand and apply
persuasive-writing skills to collect
appropriate evidence and compose a
persuasive piece of writing.
Seeing That Content Matters
Knowledge connected to disciplines—
such as investigative research and
writing—serves as one of the most
fundamental tools for making sense of
the world and acting effectively in it.
In Digital Prometheus, as players
interview citizens, they can store any 10