What does education want with games?

For some odd-cultural reason, education seemingly cannot engage with media-texts or information processes that are not self-evident of being a part of ‘life’ in the consumer society. Perhaps it is a need to feel apart from ordinary folk who are not teachers ordained by politicians and blessed with public money that does it. I don’t have a plausible explanation other than ‘EdTech’ has come to symbolise market driven education, and in persuit of that both corporate brands and the new neo-citizen brands that prowl social media. They both find it useful to pander to this separatist culture and establish that all important ‘niche’ from which they communicate their dangerously technological deterministic message.

I managed to fire off a burry-eyed Tweet this morning, commenting that another “EdTech” conference, which has called itself “TechEd” to be super-cool and different is on again today in Australia. Images of people in lines, with brands boasting about how ‘the cool people’ are willing to line up to attend what is basically another consumer electronics show. Watch out for the word “cool” in association with these messages because they signify “the uncool”. Games have of course been ‘un-cool’ in education for years. So what do these people want with thier “gamification” hashtags?

I argue that they want what they always want, more customers, more attention and more sales. Education does not move with the times and lives in 2008. It isn’t allowed to move on as the marketplace panders to adult literacies which barely reach that datum point — most are still struggling to use a computer that isn’t set up by technical support. As those are few and far between, the Internet has become the “sales assistants” for basic media-literacies. Games are amazingly complex. They would be mind-boggling to someone who still believes 50hours professional development ever five years is a ‘task’. Educational technology therefore creates “gamification” so that it can maximise the return and minimise the investment towards developing or even studying games that might help kids learn better than their blogs, wikis and podcast exercises.

Education wants game to be simple(r) to a point they can be backed into the existing dogmatic methods that was the genius-revolution of Web2.0 in schools. The issue is that while there are some great technologies on offer to schools, they are immediately labelled “pilot” or “experimental”, despite the fact virtually none of the ‘tools’ that are forced on kids have gone though any empirical process to work out if they have any benefit (sort term exam culture prevails) or in the long term. Games don’t have anything to prove in this regard. They are not by any stretch of the imagination ‘new’. Gamification is a product of mass-consumer culture and in essence, a bundle of tools for measuring and rewarding progess. Perhaps education hopes this new market will last long enough to make some more fly-in-fly-out cash, maybe they think it pumps oxygen into the dying mantra of Web2.0? Who knows what education wants — but I’m pretty sure it’s only a slim (tame-able) slither of what players want from a game.

What’s wrong with just putting games in classrooms and then figuring out what kids can do, what to do — and call it what it is – playing videogames, because it’s a great way to build one’s own technological and media literacy without a lesson plan.

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