In but a few hours, Scotland will vote on whether to become a fully independent nation. Scotland has a thriving video game industry, with much of the creativity focused on the city of Dundee. Here, we examine some of the historical connections between Dundee and the current situation of game-based learning.
Even if you are in the minority who do not play video games, it is difficult to ignore their presence in contemporary culture. Just last week the online game Destiny, with a development and advertising budget of half a billion US dollars, sold ten million copies on its launch day. Minecraft, a simulator used in some schools, approaches 60 million sales – and has just been bought out for 1.5 billion pounds – while games such as DuoLingo, Civilization and Rollercoaster Tycoon are used in learning, both casually and more formally in classrooms.
We live in a time where non-gaming educators and academics find themselves trying to separate the hype from the relevance of concepts such as gamification, virtual worlds and avatars. Why do people play games, and what exactly is this ‘play’ thing? How do you obtain a digital game for your students which is useful? How do you know if the game was, actually, useful or not after use? And where is the high quality research and further information that can help inform your practice?
But video games in education? Seriously? Yes. Though not ubiquitous, and often not suitable – you are unlikely to read of a primary school using Call of Duty or Candy Crush Saga as many people with some influence would object – video games have a long history in education, from the settler simulator of The Oregon Trail fourty years ago to the algebraic progression of Twelve A Dozen today.
How did we arrive at this point, for a media which has only existed for four decades? One historical root of this progression lies in a Scottish city more associated with cake and jute….
Entertainment such as games has been an integral part of human development for centuries. Dundee is well-known for several industries, one being a recent form of entertainment, namely video games. There are few other cities of 150,000 residents which are the home of so many games companies – currently around 40, many with vacancies – and video game software releases. This is no accident or coincidence as the city has a long history of technology and publishing industries and academia, leading to a local population with skills relevant to video game creation.
For example, D. C. Thomson & Co. were founded in Dundee over a century ago, producing newspapers, magazines and comics such as the Dandy and The Beano with their associated graphic and media designers. Several electronics companies moved to Dundee, or were formed in the city, producing ATM machines, some of the first commercially available computers, and electronic components.
The most famous of these digital businesses was Timex, the owners of a large factory in the Dryburgh district. In the early 80s the factory produced mass market home computers such as the ZX80 and ZX81 for Clive Sinclair’s Research Company, while its most famous product was the ZX “Speccy” Spectrum, selling over 5 million units. These computers encouraged solo home programming, with many titles being sold directly to the public by their programmers. In the history of video games, the Spectrum alone became the platform for 24,000 software titles and the subject of 80 magazines; it is no surprise that more than a few of these games were made by people who worked in Dundee and knew the machines well.
Repeated investment in the city also helped develop an environment for creative media industries. In 1984, as older heavy industries declined, Dundee was declared an Enterprise Zone, while in 2009 the UK government invested £2.5m in a video game centre at Abertay University. This university itself was the first university in the world to offer a course explicitly in video game engineering, in 1996. Now, the School of Arts, Media and Computer Games offers several undergraduate and postgraduate courses in game development and production. Not to be outdone, the University of Dundee also offers courses for students interested in entering the games industry.
Of the many academic alumni of Dundee who moved into video game development, David Jones founded DMA Design (which eventually became Rockstar North) in 1988. The first major “hit” of DMA Design was Lemmings; a few years later, the first of the Grand Theft Auto franchise was released, with the company selling over a quarter of a billion games to date. Dynamo Games, formed by Dundee University alumni, develops the mobile and app versions of the popular Championship (football) Manager franchise. 4J studios have ported (taking an existing game and making it work on a new platform) several titles, including Banjo Kazooie and the aforementioned Minecraft. And there are thousands of other digital and video games, of greatly varying degrees of success, which have been developed by companies in Dundee.
The city and its universities also host regular game events, such as the annual Dare ProtoPlay festival. With the visibility of the games industry extending to even statues in a city park, and the shopping centre being modeled in Minecraft, Dundee is a city that continues to support this particular creative industry which has become, arguably, the preeminent producer of cultural entertainment today.