We often think of gaming as a diversion from reality, says David Williamson Shaffer, an education science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of How Vieo Games Help Children Learn, but they're actually more real than some of the experiences kids have in school. "Elections for student body can be a powerful way for kids to understand government and democracy, but not all students can run, and what you can really do as president is limited," he says. But in a game likethe political Machine, students become campaign managers for a presidential campaign, and they decide on everything from platforms and fundraising strategies to advertising messages. Shaffer, a former Grandmaster and math teacher, was frustrated by his school's emphasis on testing basic skills, which he believes does nothing to prepare students for the technological world. Games teach students to be innovators, he says. He now works in a research group that field tests games that "help students learn to think like engineers, urban planners, journalist, lawyers, and other innovative professionals, giving them the tools they need to survive in a changing world," according to the group's Web site Epistemic Games.