How to gamify PowerPoint and save the audience

This post is about why and how to gamify a traditional lecture. It’s more of a structure than a game, but let me first explain what’s wrong with lectures to a generation familiar with games.

Games are educational. We have to learn to play, and in that learn the patterns and rules of play. Good games make people work harder. There contain a set of goals and rules – there’s no negotiation or waffling – the designer’s goals for the player are achieved by developing ever more sophisticated understanding of the patterns and schemes presented towards conclusions – be they game or user decided. For example some games end when you die, others go on and on like World of Warcraft, where you end the game at a point that is semi-suitable at the time (dang, time for work, must log off).

Unlike common-or-garden educational lecturing, games teach by avoiding the play the “guess what I’m thinking, guess what the answer I like best is” rubbish with the player. That makes a game un-fun as the game-designer would be the only one who ever really knew the solution. Surely lectures are not about perpetuating that –  or are they? – hmmm.

Games make it clear how you will know you will achieved something and what the reward will be – at the beginningYou might think,  “This is a lot like writing learn about and learn to on the board”  –  but it’s not, because “learning” is not in itself the reward students want. Its what teachers call it.

Students want (need) the paperwork that gets them to the next stage of their lives – so learning is more like being on a bad chain-quest most of the time. One bad thing after another, with the occasional win. Of course some students are more philosophical and care little for qualifications, but for most students and parents whom invest heavily in paperwork and make personal sacrifices, learning not some grandiose-enlightenment activity for junior members of their social-class. Going to University is not like taking the grand tour.

Look at conferences right now, people line up to be lectured about why lecturing is rubbish (brain-missing). Most lectures lack any sense of rhythm or timing, feel totally abstract to some and old news to others. A University lecture has the edge over a professional-development one, as generally experts doing go to under grad lectures, however I swear there are plenty of people in audiences I’ve stood before, whom I know are experts in the field, so it’s great to think they come to hear me talk – but then I get annoyed when at the end they vanish and I don’t get the conversation I could have had.

We have lectures at conferences because they are EASY, nothing else. Speakers make easy money, it’s easy to put lots of customers in a room, simple to organise – and people have been trained from the age of 5 to behave exactly the way the organiser wants. Yes, there are some naughty people on a back-channel passing notes between the rows – but essentially, we all hate this format, but play along. The best part of the conference is the fun with friends and muffins – where we could gamify presentations, we make them edu-tainment – and we totally love it. Some people spend their entire lives going to them, organising them. It’s like being able to have all your favourite musicians come around to your house, yet you never learn to play.

If we are not going to be rid of them, maybe we should gamify them

A lecture should, in my view be broken up into three acts with a final cut scene. When the student leaves, they should be charged with actually doing something with that information. Of course they can only do that, if the hour was spent wisely. Sadly most are little more than content dumps in PowerPoint so that later, when the student fails, the teacher can declare – but I told you that. People tell me all sorts of things, sadly they do not always make a PowerPoint, so I generally have to use my natural sensory skills to pay attention.  I guess you could use this in a “Flipped Classroom” – but I’m not convinced that’s trend is a productive use of most people’s time. Most teachers I know don’t have the time to run YouTube channels.


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Dean_Groom


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Dean_Groom

Games take responsibility for killing you unlike PowerPoint

They tell you enough to barely survive the next puzzle or onslaught – but they have brilliant timing of their acts and always let you try again. Except they don’t, they are just great at making you believe that, to keep you on the line between possible/impossible. They do it is very subtle ways using all the media they can muster. They don’t wait several weeks and send you a piece of paper saying “you died, pay us again” – they animate, tell jokes, give you a clue and so on. In short, as they teach you by making it ever harder to win, they also let you off the hook and allow you to retry or better still, go backwards to re-do parts of the story.

A lecture is a performance story. When it involves technology, it is augmented reality. It might not be requires special glasses, but none the less it requires the brain to learn in un-natural and artificial ways. The sad thing is that most people think it should a mix of information and entertainment – where as the brain would pay a lot more interest if it was horror/beauty, good/evil and so on. If you are lucky you’ll live through the hour of what someone else thinks is entertaining because that’s easy.

So before we get excited about alternatives to Powerpoint, then I think it’s worth thinking how to make a lecture into a game and keep PowerPoint. After all everyone can use it, so why get excited because you can make a zoomy powerpoint on the cloud. Why not just make PowerPoint like a game.

2 thoughts on “How to gamify PowerPoint and save the audience

  1. game frameworks take time to setup and engage in. unless a conference had a common game / theme where audience members would learn over multiple sessions the learning curve would dominate the (typical) allotted time.

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