TLDR: Teachers who are considering making use of commercial games in their classroom: Be aware of the infrastructural obstacles that you may encounter. Game developers and distributors: Please set up systems to make it easier to purchase and use your games in a classroom setting without defying EULAs.
This blog will shortly awake from its slumber, as we will within the next few weeks commence playing Civilization 4 with an all new group of students. In my next post I will discuss how we have used our experiences from last year´s course to improve student output.
This post however, is just a rant. A rant about continually changing hardware standards, inaccessibility of software, and all those small, crucial details that one needs to be aware of when implementing games in your lessons.
In Norway High Schools all students are given a laptop computer to use for school. Up until this year we had a system where computers were handed out to students by the school. This ensured that all computers started out with the same system and hardware specifications.
This year, student computer policy was adapted. Rather than being handed a computer, students are given a stipend to buy a laptop of their own choice. The laptop must conform to minimum standards, but with that exception, they have the liberty to buy any computer they want. They also have the opportunity to choose whether they wish to make use of a Mac a Computer running Windows. In my class, 16 out of 30 students have Macs.
For our little project, this ought not to pose much of a problem. CIV 4 has been released both for Mac and Windows. We needed to go out and purchase some copies of the game and we would be good. Initially we figured we should go through a digital distributor. I have used Steam quite a bit personally, never having an issue. Click – Buy – Download – Play.
In my naiveté I assumed buying bulk would be just as easy. Not so. In order for me to buy the 20 copies I needed, I would need to set up 20 unique accounts, pay with 20 separate credit cards, and assign these to 20 different e-mail addresses. Out of the goodness of their hearts, the people of Steam will only allow me to set up one account an hour from the same computer. In the belief that Steam was interested in my custom, I made several requests to customer support to find out if there was any way they could make this process easier for me, but to no avail. Tried to find a simple way of doing this through other digital distributors, but it seems it is not only Steam that is unaccustomed with teachers wishing to buy in bulk.
Good old fashioned disk-copies would be the way to go. I am quite certain that in the months between October and December, I was in contact with every single Norwegian brick and mortar or online shop that sold games for Mac. None of them could supply Civ 4 for Mac. I did get a very helpful e-mail from a distributor in Sweden who was able to dig up 7 copies from (I assume) the bottom of a dusty old closet, but when I need 20, 7 copies does me little good.
Eventually I came in contact with a store in the UK that did in fact have all the copies I needed in stock. Exalted, I put in my order. Finally the games I need for this project are nearly in my hands! I could nearly feel the sensation of the plastic cases in my hand. But, no. This would not be done so easily. “We are unable to ship to your destination”. I offered to pay in advance for shipping and handling, but no amount of begging or cajoling would convince the store to pack my games in a cardboard box and send it to my exotic destination. I finally resolved this when a colleague was able to pick these up while at a conference in London.
Games in hand, I was able to relax. Yet, as it turns out today, my problems are not over. Minimum computer specifications as defined by the school district do not include CD-Rom drives. As I was handing out games today, I learned that the 10 students in my class who have a Macbook Air have no possibilities to read these disks. This was an issue with the machines we used last year as well, but while the PC version of Civ 4 can be played without a disk inserted, that option is not available for Mac.
So, here I sit, two weeks before this project is finally scheduled to commence, with a third of my students unable to play the game. My hope is that maybe there is a reader of this blog with a tech knowledge that I do not possess who give me any advice to proceeding without defying the end-user license agreement.
I want to end this post with an appeal to game developers and distributors: There is a huge untapped market for commercial computer games in the education sector. There is a growing number of teachers worldwide who want to make use of your games in their classrooms. There are as of now huge structural barriers that make it difficult for teachers to make use of your games in our instruction. I am convinced that whichever developer or distributor first comes up with an intuitive and simple distribution model for games, will be able to win a significant share. So, please. We want to use your games in our classroom. Lower the structural barriers, to give us the opportunity to focus our time on developing high quality educational resources based on your games. Everybody would win.