It occurred to me, as I packed my pirate outfit after Games For Change and headed to yet another airplane, that in principle, it is now entirely possible to remain continually on the road attending conferences discussing the “gamification’ of education.
In fact, considered worldwide, this is physically impossible, minus quantum tunneling (see for example http://elearningtech.blogspot.com/2011/11/elearning-conferences-2012.html )
However, as I have sat in the audience this spring either physically or virtually at InPlay (http://www.inplay2012.com/), GDC (http://www.gdconf.com/) , SxSWedu (http://sxswedu.com/) taking place at the same time in the same city (Austin) as SITE (http://site.aace.org/conf/) ; E3 (http://www.e3expo.com/); GLS (http://www.glsconference.org/2012/index.html) taking place at the same time as Games for Health (http://www.gamesforhealth.org/index.php/conferences/gfh-2012/); followed immediately by Games for Change (http://www.gamesforchange.org/) and a week later, and most recently ISTE (http://www.iste.org/conference/ISTE-2012.aspx), I found myself pondering not so much the NP complete (i.e. basically unsolvable) traveling salesman problem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travelling_salesman_problem) , as what the heck we are all doing, and in particular, if we are really all talking about the same thing?
I have no interest, what-so-ever, in launching into an academic discourse on games and types of games, but it does seem to me that if you are promoting some form of ‘ification’ then some thought should be given to considering the operator (in this case ‘game’) that is being applied.
This may be particularly important in the case of learning, as we ARE proposing to “ify” something that already exists with its own purposes and long history (see prior post).
In figuring out if we are all on the same page, or close to it, a good place to start perhaps might be “the 100 Games Everyone Should Play” list now being crowd sourced by the “gamifiers” on http://the100.esidesign.com/. Presumably such a list could tell us something about how we are defining games and certainly what games we ourselves value.
The current top ten:
2) Settlers of Catan
4) Dungeons and Dragons
8) Sim city
9) Super Mario Brothers
I do not mean to claim that this is an authoritative list – crowd sourcing isn’t like that. But the thing that is perhaps most striking to me about this list, we generated, is how different these games are from many if not most of the so-called learning games I have seen demoed at this spring’s meetings. First, half the games on the top 100 list explicitly depend on interaction between players, or in other words, an active social context. Many if not most learning games are still single player. Second, in half of the top six games (Chess, Tetris and Go), the game establishes rules, but the “narrative” or how the rules play out is provided by the human(s) playing the game. In contrast, a nearly constant theme in gaming and learning meetings is the importance of a strong narrative to engage students (the players). In fact, only one of the top ten games is developer narrative dominated (Super Mario).
So why then do the learning games we are constructing not include core features of the games that we ourselves appear to value?
The answer, unfortunately, I think is simple – for far too long the educational system has been dominated by content over process, by the desire to teach individuals the facts we think they need to know. In talks over the last 25 years I have repeatedly pointed out that the close and deep connection between storyboarded video games and storyboarded curriculum is dangerous. In both cases, the developer’s objective is to lead players through from the beginning to the end. In the case of the traditional video game industry, start, play and finish means that players use up a game and are primed to buy the sequel, an historically good business model; but not likely to be so good for education.
However, it is clear that the games that stand the test of time (2,000+ years for “Go” ) are either those in which the storyboarding is so sophisticated that it isn’t apparent (Sim City for example), or those in which the narrative and vitality is created by the players themselves. In fact, it took the video game industry some time to understand that the vitality in even strongly storyboarded single shooter games came from the social context the players built, on their own, around those games.
So, the final question I would ask is whether we shouldn’t be using our own experience with games we like, to guide our development of learning games for others. Perhaps it is more important to consider the way we like to play, before we build in too much “what we want you to know” or worse yet “what we want you to believe”.