The basic question, the basic mental hurdle in thinking about class as a game is simply – what is a game?
A game is an activity that – requires at least one player, has rules and has a victory condition.
If we then compare this to a ‘lesson’ it’s hard to argue that lessons are not in fact games. This is also helpful in realising why Second Life is not a game and why simply pushing teachers and students in-world in fairly pointless and probably counter-productive.
Games are built to be increasingly complex and added difficulty, leading the player through a story of sorts.
There’s no reason to believe schemas familiar to gamers are not also valid new taxonomies, strategies and methods for learning in the classroom.
Todays youth has far greater schemas for these than for jumping functional literacy hoops in order to satisfy the examiner lamenting the decline essay standards. Our digital world is itself a game and requires us to approach the future teaching mindful of game-design as it dominates the technological landscape. Whether the best place to learn is in the real world or in a virtualised one highlights the simple fact virtual worlds remain a mystery to most teachers and consequently unimportant. Real learning must occur inside real classrooms whilst a few brave teachers offer some middle-ground view that the read/write web will in someway be an intersection to heal the growing chasm between ‘traditional’ and ‘technological’ teaching ideology.
Firstly, games present an academic problem. Games don’t seem to be academic “enough” — therefore cannot be used to create ‘lessons’. It’s that black and white to the majority. All Web2.0 suffers this problem, games are perhaps the easiest to marginalize, and most Web2.0 gurus avoid tainting their ‘speaking gig’ by talking about games for that reason. There is of course no guarantee that traditional lessons are academic or that they will be good either – but a convenient haughty assumption used to avoid ruminating further asking questions.
Characters in good games seek wish fulfillment. This is important to consider, as it underpins motivation and engagement. The character gamers play gives them the chance to be something they aren’t in the real world. This is also significant as it relates to identity formation and self-esteem. Games should make players feel something they aren’t in the real world: powerful, smart, rich, heroic, sneeky etc., A lesson should do the same – and realise that in games an 8 year old want’s to be good at are probably games designed for 12 year olds – and nearly always achieves it with help.
This is the victory they are seeking at an early age – to fulfill the wish to be better at something that they are currently not. This I think is partly the attraction in the Web2.0 game. Teachers see ways to play new characters and to become something that their daily-life environment isn’t providing. So we play.
Watch an 8 year old – observing a 15 year old playing Halo Reach – they are learning simply by observing. Is this so weird? Isn’t this how youngster’s learned before someone somewhere decided to standardise matters and dreamed up the idea of exams?
We can look at a teacher’s lesson plan and ask “How does a lesson satisfy the wish fulfillment of the student?”
Often it doesn’t – it is the wish of the teacher, the school, the curriculum that is fulfilled and the student remains a passive conscript in someone else’s game. The ‘ever improving’ game of results – where schools compete for ‘the best results’ to prove some societal point.
Most gamers don’t actually know what they want until it is shown to them. This is often said of students and teachers. However, game designers look for things that they have created in their design that are ‘un-fun’. They simply remove as much un-fun activities as possible, leaving the ‘fun’ behind. Simple. Un-fun is a learning killer, but a worthwhile approach to evaluating the design of lessons. When playing a game – we can quit when the un-fun reaches the red-zone. In a classroom, we can’t switch off the teacher, so instead switch off our brains – as humans are great at this. Game designers seem to be better at avoiding this than any other form of media right now – yet game theory is still estranged from proper learning theory.
If a 10 year old performs better in Field Runners than a 40 year old – then should be not be finding out why? For example, why isn’t it important to use Field Runners to assess 8-12 year olds their computational logic and critical thinking over a set of fragmented paper-based tests? What is more important – assessing this skill or their ability to format text in Word?
What are we so scared of finding out?
Part of the problem here seems to be — if teachers develop ways to use Field Runners as an assessment tool for critical thinking — chances are it’s going to disrupt everything else as we discover (and admit) than an 8 year old has the same computational logic skills as a 17 year old.