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Games Taken Seriously = Serious Players Learning

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Alhambra Palace
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Alhambra Palace

Building Upon Past Critiques

In my last scholarly critique of Taking Serious Games Seriously in EducationI leaned that such a thing a research-based learning progressions existed. My professor, Remi Holden, asked if the learning progression was spelled out in detail. It was not. He then suggested that I look into other serious game research and read an article that his mentor, Jeff Kupperman, coauthored.

It Matters Because It’s a Game: Serious Games and Serious Players was a collaboration of Jeff Kupperman, Michael Fahy, Fred Goodman, Susanna Hapgood, Jeff Stanzler, and Gary Weisserman. This serious research pulled from such academic institutions as University of Michigan-Flint, University of Michigan Interactive Communications and Simulations, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and University of Toledo. The researchers concluded that serious games can miss the mark by focusing on end results rather than creating an opportunity for learners to completely immerse themselves in play that is taken seriously.

The Stage

Players Out Of Time (POOT) is a prime example of developing serious players and for this reason was used as the game of study for Kupperman and team. POOT is an online simulation of a diplomatic trial set in Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.

This hallowed space sets the stage for students to play the roles of a wide variety of historic characters such as Martin Luther King, Jr, Edgar Allen Poe, King Henry VIII, or Madame Curie. Students asynchronously communicate with other characters through guided discussions that occur in the “Great Hall” or “Courtroom”. They may also write a speech in the “Foyer”, offer  “presentations of evidence,” or blog individually. Most importantly, students are challenged to fully embody their character’s mindset and tone voice in all their interactions.

Photo Credit: Place Out of Time
Photo Credit: Place Out of Time

The Power of Anonymity

With students getting to play a character, they are free to say things that might otherwise be critically judged if said outside of character. For example, when a discussion question asked if violence is necessary, Ptolemy I Sofer responded,


Of course violence is necessary! What should I do? Sit there like a duck and fall through the hierarchy like a knife through papyrus? No! I claimed king ship like a alpha wolf claims his title: he has to fight for it, and as a reward, he is feared, respected, noticed for being strong, for having the strength to be a leader, the leader of the pack. And as a reward he is first in line for food, first in line for hunting. So I have to be like a wolf: I have to fight for the right to be king,” (Kupperman et. al, 2011, p. 25).


The student playing Ptolemy was able to take huge risks in acting out his character’s historical stance. He took his role seriously and this is where the real learning took place.


Emerging Leadership

Heated debates provoked impassioned students to go above and beyond the assignment. The host and mentors introduced benign intrusions of authority. In one instance, the character, Edgar Allan Poe worked to form a watchdog committee by the name of Alhambra Security Committee (ASC) in order to uphold order in the trial. Though Edgar’s character did not have the top dog mentality of Ptolemy, the student playing Edgar realized his ability to lead through organizing and fighting for justice in the serious game.



In the majority of today’s schools, many students do what is asked of their teachers in order to reach the end goal and earn their grades. Their work is not impacting anyone outside the classroom. Kupperman and team studied how to shift this dynamic to a position where students voluntarily attempt overcoming obstacles, and in fact, impact change beyond their classroom.  POOT harnesses this learning magic: students become serious players and embody the role of serious learner.




Kupperman, J., Fahy, M., Goodman, F., Hapgood, S., Stanzler, J., & Weisserman, G. (2010). It Matters Because It’s a Game: Serious Games and Serious Players. International Journal of Learning and Media, 2(4), 21-30. Retrieved March 15, 2016, from




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