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Plugged In

White House exploring benefits of gaming

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Constance Steinkuehler

The Obama administration is embracing the gamification movement in a big way.

Constance Steinkuehler has been hired as a senior policy analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Sounds like a typical government title, huh? Here's the catch: She studies video games.

Steinkuehler is tasked with finding ways to use games as educational tools, including ways in which games can teach Americans everything from eating right to balancing their budget (maybe she'd like to test that one on Congress for starters).

She comes to the beltway via the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin, where she has taken an 18-month leave of absence. The 41-year old holds a triple-major in math, English literature and religious studies. At the university, she has been focusing on what motivates people to learn.

As part of that research, Steinkuehler has studied games like World of Warcraft and the since departed Lineage. And, if gamers are worried about another bureaucrat badmouthing their hobby, they can relax. Steinkuehler has over three years as a guild leader under her belt, so she understands how MMOs tick.

President Obama has been outspoken about gaming in the past, criticizing parents who don't limit their children's play time, but he has seemingly been a bit more open to them in recent months. Last year, he spoke about his desire to create "educational software that's as compelling as the best video game."

And, of course, he bought his daughters Just Dance 3 and The Sims 3 for Christmas.

Of course, researchers have been saying video games are good for you for a while now. Among the benefits scientists have found are improved eyesight, increased mental acuity and improved driving skills.

And Jane McGonigal, the woman behind gamification theory, notes they also make us better people.

"What we're doing when we're playing games is we are tapping into our best qualities - our ability to be motivated, to be optimistic, to collaborate with others, to be resilient in the face of failure," she said in an interview on The Colbert Report last year. "The emotions we feel in games spill over into our real lives. Playing a game with a powerful avatar for just 90 seconds will make you more confident in the real world for 24 hours. You're able to do well in a workplace meeting — and even flirting with strangers at a bar. You'll feel more attractive than you would have if you hadn't played the game."

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