Kids don’t play games for fun, but to tune their thinking

I’ve been thinking about Social Enterprise a lot this week, and this idea of jobs being tradeable and non-tradable. Musing over bacon while personally fascinating isn’t productive, so where would these thoughts occur in our growing game-community.

First, consider the fuss if we were to make a list of things teachers do that has become tradeable. Let’s go extreme and  say all of it or non of it. To some, virtual school is a reality and therefore teaching is a job which is tradeable. On the other hand, some see it as non-tradable, a thing that happens best or foremost in an actual classroom where the participants come and go each day to learn according to the agenda of the front-expert.

Learning online, in a formal sense often presents to me as a modest extension of  non-tradeable belief. We take what we do in class and put it online (with or without funky tools). Yey! Look at me, I’m teaching online (in the same way I teach off-line). Pretty much all distance education believes this. It organises learning in pretty much the same way, organises time in the same way and thinks of learning in the same way. That’s a scary thought, so I’ll move on to put this into our game-context.

In our game, we have traded the traditional model of eLearning for game based learning. In doing so, we are by necessity traded out. The kids work as a Social Enterprise before and after school.

Learning in the game can be mapped fairly easily to what Marc LeBlanc calls ‘Eight kinds of fun”.

Playing the game is a sensation (finding pleasure in learning), fantasy (it’s make believe), narrative (the world has an unfolding story), challenge (there’s always something to overcome), fellowship (the game provides a social framework), discovery (living the game is unchartered territory), expression (the game gives kids a soap box) and submission (passing time).

Games display these things all the time. Final Fantasy for example has: Fantasy, Narrative, Expression, Discovery, Challenge, Submission.

What makes Minecraft a social enterprise and not just a game is that the designer is also the player, a role that kids constantly exchange. This creates a living, dynamic exchange of both skills and knowledge that spills out into making videos, writing, drawing and designing away from the game. Kids in our game are not only playing (if we follow popular definition), they predominantly involved in what LeBlanc calls Tuning. When tuning, our aesthetic vocabulary and models help us articulate design goals, discuss game flaws, and measure our progress as we tune. This in turn re-defines the dynamic models that the kids hold as patterns and processes in the form of expression.

So, as the kids tune their ideas, skills and knowledge – they express this in many ways: chat logs, skype class, avatar designs, video productions and of course the built environment. Each time a kids does something new, the other kids learn from it dynamically, and the model of what is ‘good’ or ‘socially on par’ changes.

Expression comes from dynamics that encourage individual users to leave their mark: systems for purchasing (aka begging Jo for stacks), building or earning game items (crafting), for designing, constructing and changing levels or worlds (we have 4 worlds), and for creating personalised avatars (skindex). This is what we (as facilitators) spend all our time focusing on. We actively avoid interfering with the enterprise and corrupting the dynamic. That, in the traditional sense of what a teacher ‘does’ seems counter-intuitive.

When I compare ‘eLearning’ and ‘distance learning’ methods in common practice (be that game, virtual world or LMS) – the mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics don’t do this. Why would they? Even connectivism-heads appear (to me) to think PLNs and MOOCs are about text and sharing links about knowledge.

If your 8 it isn’t, it’s something completely different.

What our kids are learning is that learning itself is dynamic and has a velocity that is best regulated socially by the members of the set. What makes it work is not a promise of knowledge or qualifications (badges) but because it produces fun from a constant social enterprise which feeds the dymanic and influence the mechanics and rules as a feedback loop.

This happens, because we design it and run it this way. We think this can be applied to non-game spaces, and something that teachers might like to learn to do, such rebooting the LMS.

However there would be almost no overt teaching and a completely different set of dynamic tools that power the social mechanic. In effect, to make it work, you trade out the teacher.

Warning: Building robots is not without risk or critisism.


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  1. Pingback: links for 2011-09-13 | Gamer/Learner

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