Video Game Design: The Missing Ingredient?

Students who design software for fellow players are often engaged in STEM subjects.

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Allyson Peerman is AMD's corporate vice president of public affairs. 

It's a story we read about in the press all too often these days: An education crisis is looming, complete with alarming high school dropout rates and widely reported anecdotes about students who, if they do manage to graduate high school, are woefully unprepared for college. 

At times like these, it's important to remember that we should never let a good crisis go to waste. Now may be a particularly opportune time to move beyond current "tried and true" teaching methods and explore new approaches in education. At AMD, we have a vested interest in helping to address this issue. As a high-tech enterprise, like many others, we always need a highly capable workforce with strong engineering skills based on a solid educational foundation. We believe it's not only advantageous for corporations to devote their time and resources to tackle this issue for future generations, it is imperative. 

So what do I mean by new approaches to education? 

Many students—including those who are tuning out in school—are turning on to video games outside of school. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 97 percent of teens play some form of video games in their spare time. 

And, a growing body of research highlights the potential of game-based learning in K-12 education. As Alan Gershenfeld, president of Eline Media, notes, "Unlike other linear media ... games are interactive. They're participatory. The player has agency, which is very, very powerful." 

Taking this thought one step further, we believe there is a strong correlation between video game design and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) training that is critical to the development of tomorrow's engineers, scientists, and other technical workers. As a result, a number of forward-thinking education institutions and corporations such as AMD are using this winning combination to tie together STEM skill learning and video games in fun and interactive ways. Programs such as AMD Changing the Game, the AMD Foundation's signature education program, directly leverage the connection between STEM skill development and video games. The goal of the program, n is to inspire teens to learn by enabling them to create games around key social issues, such as recycling, energy conservation, and public health, to name a few. 

AMD recently conducted an AMD Changing the Game workshop in Abu Dhabi to show how game design can enhance the STEM skills and technological career aspirations of Emirati youth. During the two-week program, 10 teachers and 77 Emirati male and female students, from grades 9 to 12, participated in hands-on gaming technology workshops and teacher trainings. Enhancing STEM skills for Abu Dhabi youth is critical as the region is rapidly becoming a key market for semiconductors and technology. The workshop helped demonstrate how the program not only guides STEM skill development through game design but also enhances problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and communications—skills engineers will need now and in the future. Some may call it "hiding the vegetables in the mashed potatoes," but we call it stealth learning.

If there's one thing we've learned from this successful program, and deployments like the Abu Dhabi AMD Changing the Game workshop, it's that gaming is truly a global language. And, perhaps, it's the language we need to address global educational challenges in the 21st century.