Play: For amusement or action

I read a quote today ““Play is because of what it is not: it’s not goal-directed, it’s not structured, it’s not meaningful, it’s not “about” anything. To play is to have no expectation other than amusement.” Mark Pesce 2005.

I don’t know how accurate the reference is, but it seems a very odd thing to believe. Play, when associated with games – seems to turn off the vast majority of educational minds. When kids play a MMO, they have one big expectation, that they will learn to be better players by playing. They also know that there are goals, implicit and explicit embedded into the game-play. Games can be very casual, very throw away – but that could be said of all kinds of media. Casual games are social, and like casual media – Facebook, New Weekly. They are also widely reported as being the domain of females. At the same time, of the millions playing – the grown ups, the majority are worried about children using online spaces – some 63% according to Digital Futures.

So play in the online sense is both attractive and concerning for adults – whom in Australia alone spend over a billion dollars on subscriptions and titles. While schools studies ‘multi-media’, the media and entertainment juggernaut is interested in transmedia.

The new art of combining play (alternate reality, serious games, MMOs, MUVES) with physical objects, narrative and interaction – via social cognition – over multiple spaces, devices and media.

We have to talk about and consider what growing up with a Nintendo in your pocket provisions – as a learner.

Of course kids will leap onto computers and move almost effortlessly move around virtual space. Games offer some very attractive pedagogical opportunities, but we have to be careful about confusing what we can do with games in learning – with amusement – just as showing kids a DVD does not mean they are thinking critically about the narrative.

The media bombards youth online with information – and uses transmedia to push and pull out brains in and out of reality. It is hard to imagine how consoles and PC games will look in a decade – or how expertly media and entertainment are going blend play and learning (about their version of XYZ). Notice that the ABC has a new show – Spawn Point – a kids version of Good Game. This is a reaction to the quite different markets between adult and kid gamers. In that link, notice that it is already a discussion, not just a TV show.

I guess that’s why I see games, MMOs and Virtual Worlds as something that needs far greater presence at AU education events (I think there are zero sessions at ACEC 2010). I hope there is room in the new breed of tech-savvy super teacher strategy for games in Australia … we are lagging … and gamers hate lag.

2 thoughts on “Play: For amusement or action

  1. Hi Dean,

    Really good post. There’s so much to be gained by looking at how video games scaffold learning, assess, reward, provide feedback and engage players. I’ve written about these ideas at some length on my blog so I won’t go into them here, suffice to say that this is an area that is becoming increasing sophisticated with narrative, design and problem-solving.

    BTW: I have a session at ACEC2010 on ‘Problem-solving in Video Games’ looking at how some games give users the tools not only to solve problems, but also to create and share challenges of their own. I’ve watched my own kids move from being consumers of video game content to producers of content.

    If anything, I hope my session may be the catalyst for some educators to consider the idea of including video games in their curriculum design. I think there is a place to embrace elements of gaming and to take what works in that context and to explore it further in the crucible of the classroom.

    Cheers, Paul

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