What does education want with gamification?

I’m doing an online discussion next week about gamification and education. It’s only short, but pleased to say that I’m at least on the bill with the likes of James Portnow [wonders if he’ll use voice-changer]. Actually, I’m also developing a post-graduate course on Game’s Based Learning and looks like writing a book chapter, so I need to get over the ‘imposter syndrome’. Maybe it’s a glimpse of ‘game-cultures’ to come, and is a pleasant distraction from more mundane dilemmas such as “so do you have a job next year or not?” type questions to flow around the habitus.

What does education want with gamification? I have a few ideas. First, games are part of the consumer fascination some teachers have with technology broadly. Now that ‘games’ are less taboo than five years ago, they are being discussed more without that socal-awkwardness related to ongoing negative media representations. More teachers ‘dare’ to play and talk about it. Yey for games. Another idea is that videogames are kicking teacher’s collective ass when it comes to children’s interest in media. Few teachers I meet have watched Twitch TV, know who owns it and why younger kids especially have flocked to it. Gamification allows us to pick ‘things we like’ from ‘groupthink’ and have some ‘fun’ with learning.

Watch the video below to see how gamification is being thrust onto the world though the political economy.

Gamification (for me) is deeply connected to marketing and political-economies, far more so than video games or even play. Gamification uses external rewards and is basically bribery – and often forgets that a reward the player doesn’t see as valuable, isn’t a reward. That to me is the basic problem with educational assessment — and entrenched culture of grades. One people work out, the rewards are digital-gold-stars, then you’re stuffed. Equally, all games get boring when you master them. As schools value regularity, then the irregular nature of games (what makes them interesting) is removed in favour of ‘fetch missions’, where operant conditioning kicks in. This is fine if you’re selling/marketing, but game designers strive to avoid operant conditioning as ‘fun’ (the other thing teachers believe games are) — is an intrinsic reward, and only works on naive players.

The problem here is that playing games is universal in our culture — and we don’t have players who are naive enough to fall for operant methods or gold stars for too long. We also tend to think learning designers can flip over into game design, which is false, and why so many ‘serious games’ have sucked in the past. Gamification is often used when the content isn’t compelling and people don’t actually care about the reward (for long) when it has limited articulation into life. Education seems to want to extract ‘engagement, fun, and flow’ from games, and appears to see ‘gamification’ as a way of doing this. Serious Game + Social dimension doesn’t make learning deeper or more motivating sadly.

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