Mind Games


The choice between playing a video game and studying just got a whole lot easier for some MCLA students, thanks to a new philosophy course developed by Dr. Gerol Petruzella '01. They can earn college credits while playing "Dungeons and Discourse," an online game designed to encourage critical, evaluative mental habits.

The game is much more than a feature of the class; it constitutes the entire course.

According to the NEA Foundation, interactive technology and game-based activities are the next great teaching frontiers. Recently, NEAF partnered with Microsoft - US Partners in Learning to recognize Petruzella as an educator who is redefining learning by combining the appeal of video games with classroom instruction.

Petruzella, MCLA's coordinator of academic technology and a visiting professor of philosophy at the College for the past five years, was one of several individuals who were awarded $1,000 from the C2i: Gaming Challenge, which sought ideas for how technology and game-based learning can improve teaching and learning.

To play the game, students are travelers in the land of Sophos. Its regions - which represent the major divisions of philosophy - have been usurped by a shadowy cadre of figures known as the Dread Aesiphron.

"These 'bosses' and their minions rely upon various patterns of fallacious reasoning to exert control over their territories; the travelers undertake a series of quests in each region, each of which is associated with a particular (fictional) task and goal, completion of which requires the use of a 'scroll' (philosophical text), participation in several marketplaces (in-class discussions), and an online challenge (a series of short writing assignments)," Petruzella explained.

"Successful completion earns the player various experience points, and possibly useful objects, which ultimately assist in players' collective conflict with the region bosses."

A fan of Webcomics, Petruzella came across artist Aaron Diaz's "Dungeons and Discourse" two-strip storyline. With Diaz's permission to use the "Dungeons and Discourse" phrase, he took the idea and ran with it, instantiating the idea into a playable, pedagogically useful practice. He developed the concept, and "play tested" it over this past spring semester.

"In general, I think it presents students with a set of expectations for a college course which are unexpected, yet familiar," Petruzella said. "At the least, this can have the effect of challenging them in new ways. Gaming is effective in the development not only of players' skills, but of their application of those skills."

Already, word of the game is spreading among students.

Thirteen students have completed the inaugural course, and their feedback thus far has been positive, Petruzella said. "I've encountered students in other departments who, upon being introduced to me, have said that they had heard of me from friends enrolled in my class!"

Petruzella continues to improve the game. He recently was joined in the effort by MCLA alumnus Todd Bowes '02, the lead guitarist for the rock band, "Dead Superstar."

When Bowes heard of Petruzella's project, he offered his professional services and has begun to compose and record an original score and soundtrack for the game.

"It's amazing and wonderful to have Todd's creative work involved in Dungeons and Discourses," Petruzella said. "And doubly cool to have two MCLA philosophy alums collaborating on it!"