PAX East Interview with Muzzy Lane: The Pioneers of Game Based Learning

What if video games were the future tech of our political, academic, and economical world? Muzzy Lane's new grant offers the opportunity to delve into the true potential video games can explore.

Game-based learning has been steadily growing for the past several years. Since 2002, Muzzy Lane has implemented games to teach while working on exploring game-based learning as a core student activity in competing based post-secondary education. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded Muzzy Lane to explore the proof of concept that digital game base learning can be a tool to help low-income college success and increase completion rates. Muzzy Lane believes people can learn by doing via their games.

At first, people were skeptical but it succeed right away. Their first game was the Making History Series made specifically for high school and college history classes. The game showcased a lot of what was needed to implement games in schools, but the findings also brought up the question on how the platforms effectively scaled games and spread them in academics.  

The Gates grant allows for research to see what possibilities there are to scale developing games in a variety of subjects while maintaining a thorough-line of technology. Starting with a new game system or engine every time you're trying to do a new game will take forever. We can see that all across the PAX, GDC, EVO, and major con floors across how long games take to go from idea to generation to execution to release.   

So how does it work?

How can gaming be used to teach and not to entertain? According to Muzzy Lane, trying to look at learning objects to pick a design that is the most effective is the plan of action. Whether it can be turn based, role play, FPS or text-based game the design of a game must suit the learning objectives.  

Working with McGraw-Hill Education, Muzzy Lane hopes to develop academic tools to aid students and anyone aspiring to either become certified, experienced or knowledgable in a field. Research shows that students completing basic learning games retain more of what they learned via simulation. A class of freshmen marketing majors played one of Muzzy Lane's Practice Series called Practice Marketing. The game puts players in a role of a marketing manager at a backpack company.

Player's responsibility are to start a new line, figure how to sell backpacks, and design the packs accordingly. Aspects of the price of the backpack to where it's sold and channels it's sold in were critical components to the success of the students. Instructors realized students were applying all of the material they had learned in the class and saw that students also spoke to each other in the language of marketing. They began to understand what things meant and what they were for in regards to marketing, not just the arbitrary remote learning but the necessary knowledge that one would get by working in a company. They had to actually use techniques they learned and when they succeeded or failed adjust their marketing plan while competing against each other. 


Another game from a similar vein, also for McGraw-Hill Education, is Government In Action. Players played as members of Congress as a way of exploring American Government. Using different elements of gameplay, players passed bills, took care of home constitutes all the while trying to get re-elected. With limited resources, players must find crucial ways to cooperate and balance their effort to maximize their Political Capital.  

If you have a learning objective and that learning objective involves having to do something and doing that something helps you internalize the learning objective better than reading about it or being told about it, that becomes a candidate for game based learning right away. It is what Muzzy Lane likes to call experiential learning. -Conall Ryan

Game Based Learning Research

Game mechanism puts players in the role of someone they are learning about. Whether it's a congressmen or marketing person or someone on a quest, it's a great way to get players to interact within an environment or to be "inside" the learning as oppose to observing it from outside. There is a lot of research that says game based instruction has a deeper level of engagement. Kids nowadays, grow around games and are use to having a controller in their hands exploring and discovering the worlds created for them. Muzzy Lane posed the question, why can't these games be an academically beneficial learning experience too? Why do games only have to be portioned to the entertaining side of gaming? You don't have to extract the fun in order to deliver a more powerful learning experience.     

When one is in a challenging game based virtual environment, it is safe so one can try experimenting in ways they could not otherwise try. The idea that failure is only a temporary condition and success is within your grasp keeps people trying as a really powerful motivating source. Research states kids will read at a higher level if they are in a game setting and need to decode language as part of figuring out how to complete a mission, level up, or succeed. All sorts of great built-in motivational reasons why game based learning can help teach many different subjects. 

Simply memorization and multiple choices questions are considered the low part of the pyramid in terms of encouraging, measuring, and rewarding critical thinking says Muzzy Lane CEO and President Conall Ryan.  

65% of the jobs are kids will have don't yet exist. We're not training them for jobs now, we're training them to learn to adapt and to do the jobs we can't yet write descriptions for. Games are just a form of assessment you just don't mind taking. Providing encouragement and extracting meaning that is actionable for an instructor and administration is a really powerful concept that is really important.

In today's economy, there are so many jobs available yet so few people with skills sets to populate them.Connecting the dots to credentials  and certifications one can practice medical office with McGraw at a GED/HS level studying to get the certification as a medical assistant to work in the office as credited process. So the motivation for completing the game is a job with a salary.   


Muzzy Lane sees their games as virtual apprenticeship. Students have already mentioned at job interviews their data that they had spent 10-30 hours a week in a simulation related to their careers. 

Other Examples of Game Beyond Entertainment 

Many experts in the field of psychology and neuroscience are applying their PhDs into video games untapping the true potential video games offer. League of Legends Lead Player Behavior Specialist and PhD. psychologist Jeffrey "Dr. Lyte" Lin discussed at GDC 2013 how player behavior can be shaped in-game. The results are beyond our expectations as players learn appropriate positive behavior in-game to help create a positive rich gaming experience. In a blog posted about the recent efforts put forth by RiotGames

More than 74% of players that receive a first warning for inappropriate behavior improve. Only a 1-3% of players refuse to reform regardless of consequences with consistent severe behavior that requires drastic punishment such as a 15 day ban. 

With the help of his team, Dr Lyte is sweeping headlines across the internet with his methods of gaming enhancements that further promote the true potential of video games.  

Ph.D. psychologist and expert on the psychology of video games, Jamie Madigan offers an amazing insight on the cognitive structures players base not only their preferences in gaming but also how the psychology behind games shapes people's behavior, shapes our beliefs, and trigger purchasing decisions. With his new book coming out, Dr. Madigan digs deep into the how video games affects our identities, purchasing preferences, obsession to consoles and genres, addiction, and commitments to in-game rewards.   


The future of gaming is changing drastically. With funding from the Gates Foundation, Muzzy Lane will pioneer game based learning and transform the way we think about academia and even our world. Imagine going to a job interview and playing a game to assess your qualifications for the job? Or how about playing a game that when completed you will earn your MCATs, MBA, or LSATs? Imagine how much more prepared people will and can be for the job market and even for future job markets. Video Games are certainly not child's play anymore.


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Published Jun. 18th 2020

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