One of the questions we are often asked is where to start. Playing games themselves is one of the most important steps. Since selecting which games to play can feel very overwhelming to those just starting to play, here is a list of three free online recommendations. These are by no means the only choices, but are a good place to get your feet wet. Feel free to add additional games that might be useful in the comments section! The key to this post is that they are free or very low-cost games.
(1) Farmville (free online; can be played via Facebook; commit to two weeks of gameplay)
Farmville is a wildly popular, casual social game. Playing it is a good way to learn how repetition and collaboration are built into games. It doesn’t really develop expertise, but instead relies on a reciprocity dynamic with other players, your neighbors—in other words, it relies on our feelings of social obligation and desire to “keep-up-with-the-Joneses”, by asking us to constantly visit, help, and give to others, with the understanding that they’ll help us back. It is very user-friendly and can be played in a wide variety of languages.
If you’re interested in seeing how a farming game might be different, check out Free Farm Game (available in French and English) for a more complex, non-social, management farming game. It’s a little more realistic with regards to what’s really involved in farming. Another farming game with a social responsibility message is Third World Farmer (available in Spanish and English)—it has a critical, educational orientation. Comparing all three games can give you insight into how game genre is separate from game content.
(2) Diner Dash (free online or on a mobile device; commit to one week of gameplay)
This is a great game for understanding how games teach skills incrementally, and how these skills add up to ‘levels’. Pay special attention to how the game implicitly teaches you to play it–many games these days don’t come with a manual, but instead rely on the leveling mechanism to teach players the game as they play it.
(3) World of Warcraft (10-day free trial; commit to 10 hours of gameplay over the course of two weeks)
Trying a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) like World of Warcraft is a good experience for anyone interested in working with digital games. As you play, pay special attention to how the game promotes in-game player collaboration, how it provides feedback and its leveling mechanism. Although the learning curve is steep, and you may not use it with your students, as the number one selling MMOG it combines many of the elements that we believe make up a powerful learning environment.
If WoW is too memory-intense for your computer, another popular MMOG is Runescape. It’s entirely online, and is available in English, German, French, and Portuguese.