The Institute of Play is a nonprofit studio founded by a group of game designers in New York City, which strives to introduce “twenty first century skills,” such as systems thinking, risk taking analysis, critical reflection, collaboration, and creative problem solving into standard U.S. grade school curricula.
Katie Salen, a professor at the School of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University, is the current Executive Director of the Institute.
The studio has founded several charter schools – known as Quest to Learn schools in New York and Chicago, all based around the idea that gaming can be an armature around which to build curriculum. Rather than having to compete with iPads and Playstations, the Institute of Play philosophy draws them in as allies.
Quest to Learn emphasizes “situated learning” wherein “students are asked to take on the identities and behaviors of designers, inventors, writers, historians, mathematicians, and scientists in contexts that are real or meaningful to them.”
Quest to Learn fulfills all state and federal mandates for teaching, but it uses the internal architecture of games—rules, components, core mechanics, goals, conflict, choice, and space—to guide the design of learning experiences. Thus, throughout the Q2L curriculum, game design is used as a learning strategy for students. The core of the school is the Mission Lab, which is an onsite game design studio staffed by designers and curriculum developers who work closely with teachers and kids to design learning activities.
The Quest to Learn approach strives to present creative and fun solutions to what would otherwise be considered a depressing contemporary reality: that educators are losing children’s interest and time to digital media and video games. The Institute of Play is reframing this by demonstrating that the classroom can adapt to reflect the realities of the information age without sacrificing actual teaching.