"We want to figure out what's compelling about the games," says John Nordlinger, head of gaming research for Microsoft. "If we can find out how to make the games fun and not make them so violent, that would be ideal."
The corporation, who publish the Gears of War series among many other titles, is investing $1.5 million to start The Games for Learning Institute (GfLI), a co-operative effort with New York University and other colleges. The goal is to see whether video games (moreso mainstream titles than purposely educational ones) can attract students into math, science and technology-based programs. The Institute has already some middle school students in mind for the research.
Naturally, skeptics are about on this -- while World of Warcraft (WoW), for one, has been suggested to encourage scientific thinking, it seems to provoke others to neglect other aspects of lives, including school. Of course, WoW isn't your ordinary game.
Microsoft is not the first to explore such avenues, though they are the first (of its size at least) to focus on shooters. In any case, it is certainly one of the biggest entities, and power like that could come in handy. For example, results so far of research in the field leave a lot to be desired, especially in terms of long-term psychological and sociological effects.
On a visit to the National Institute on Media and the Family's Fargo campus, Microsoft chief researcher Craig Mundie said games could help develop "a higher-order cognitive capability." Shooters, for example, require a constant evaluation of ammunition, and where and when to obtain more.
Fargo's South High School has recently gotten its own video gaming club; one of its members, Shelby Cossette, joined because she wanted to meet other gamers (sociology) and has found puzzle-solving games sharpen her reaction time (psychology). The club was started by an English teacher at the school, Chuck Lang, who believes in what Microsoft is aiming for, saying, "Why not spread this market out? Why not promote something where kids are having fun?"
Lots more information about the The Games for Learning Institute can be found via the Microsoft Research link below.