Why Games Are Better (100% more Why)
In my haste to write about this topic, I think I made a mistake. Last time I talked about some of my issues with the U.S. education system, and I intended to follow that post up with a How we gamify education for the better post. Well, that plan hasn’t totally changed, but here’s the issue I woke up to: gamification of education is fantastic and all, but besides the actual methods of doing it, not enough has been talked about how we actually make it happen. I’m going to save my precious How post title for that discussion next time.
So. Today I’m going to deliver 100% more Why gamification would be better, by examining education through the gaming lens, before we get down to the real work of bringing our gaming fantasy into reality.
Better is key here; there is no point if we just end up making something different that could be equally horrible. Without further adieu, let’s talk about the flip side of the Why coin, the game side, and avoid this situation:
What does it mean to gamify education? In the strictest sense, it is applying game mechanics to a method of educating. It’s about empowering students to do better, and making learning, well, fun! Or at the very least, a hell of a lot more rewarding.
I said in my last post that our current system is already sort of gamified, just done really stupidly. It’s a grind fest with no save points for failure, rewards that are few and far between, and only one primary playable skill set to choose from for success: academic test taking. It takes a year to “level up”, and “badges/achievements” or grades you receive can be just as harrowing as they rewarding, while also being permanent.
There is also a danger in making education a total fail proof candy land of gametastic victory. School is supposed to teach students tough real world lessons right? Like how to deal with failure, how to work for the intrinsic reward of simple accomplishment, but can schools really take credit for teaching those lessons? We learn those lessons because school is rigid in how it defines success, and often unforgiving or indifferent to the student’s struggle, not because school sets out to make us well rounded people. I’d wager that most students don’t go to school every day thinking “I’ll work hard today because it will make me feel good!”, I’d go so far as to say the intrinsic rewards that are supposed to come from just working hard are rarely found in the daily grind of standard schooling as it is now. Games can teach these lessons better.
Let’s break it down, gamer style.
Ze Grind of Doom
“The Grind” is the concept of doing a LOT of repetitive work that has little to no meaning to get somewhere or something. In school, that somewhere-something is graduating high school and maybe getting into college. It doesn’t foster the idea that the student is there to learn, it fosters the idea that the student is playing the game to escape the game. Students get there by doing specific quests, or classes as real people call them. If they succeed the quest, they move on to the next one, always moving towards escape. Play style can have some variability in which classes the student takes, but all the “important” classes use final exams as the big quantifier for success. When the players reach the boss exam, they are forced back into a single play style; memorizing facts, regardless of personal strengths or alternative skills.
What’s more, the rewards system in the game of school is backwards. Extra Credits talks about the idea that our grading system works by starting kids off with the concept of having a 100% A+ in any given class, and all subsequent tasks only have the potential to take points, rather than reward them. If a student does poorly on a test, there is rarely a “try again” button, no space for redemption. The message is “Move on, this task is done, just keep moving towards the exit.” The point of education is for students to learn. Let me say that again.
The point of education is for students to learn.
the point is not to keep grinding towards release, regardless of what was actually learned at all. If a student wants to try again, why on earth shouldn’t they?!
Why Games Are Better
The goal of gamifying education isn’t to just throw points at the system and call it a game. At least, that’s not how I think we gamify it successfully. What we really want is to get students interested in learning. Take the class system found in most MMORPGs; it’s less different from education’s class system than you might think. In games, players choose classes based on what they want to be good at as well as what interest them most; class choice is personal (which is how the educational class system should work). Wan’t to run around with lightning on your fingers and no pants under your robes? Wizard it is! More into solving problems by punching them in the face? Warrior is for you! Do what keeps you playing! It is, after all, your game.
It’s actually this mindset extended into education that first got me blogging, via Extreme Biology. My former teacher, Ms. Baker (I get to call her Stacy now!), had students write blog posts on any life science topic they wanted to as part of our grade, to give students freedom to pursue what interests them. It worked; I remember all the topics I wrote about in freshman year, because I got to choose. No, it wasn’t really gamified, and it only existed in her biology class, but small things can have big meaning. The concept of choice, how the student or player plays the game, is where intrinsic rewards are fostered. Want kids to learn, just cuz? Give them freedom. Power to the player is power to the student.
In WoW, millions of players even make extra effort to play the “metagame”, the game outside the game, by researching how to play best on sites like WoWWiki (the second largest wiki in the world to Wikipedia) or Wow Insider. Players do this because they have a strong sense of personalized engagement with their characters, they put in extra work the game doesn’t explicitly say is necessary. In education terms, that’s like getting kids to do extra homework and research without telling them to.
As for failure, games are the epitome of failure done right. Jane McGonigal talks about the resilience to try again that is imbued into the gamer mindset. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed horribly in pvp with Jacob only to keep trying and trying and trying again. Failure shouldn’t be about sucking it up and moving on, it should be about sucking it up, figuring out what went wrong, and trying again. Learn something, damnit! The only thing I want students thinking is that true failure, hopeless useless meaningless failure, is not an option.
Game design is all about creating an experience that is both engaging and rewarding, oh and fun. If we approach education with a game design mindset, the flaws become apparent, as do the solutions.
Ding! You’ve leveled up! Please see your local librarian for training.
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