Due to a death in the family, we moved the talk from Dec 20 to Dec 27 (last night). I think it was well attended, but I really have no idea. I was told it had the most pre-sale tickets of all the lectures, but maybe right after xmas was tough to get a huuuge crowd. I think there were about 30 people.
But, whoa, those people! We had an excellent QA session after the presentation. Some very smart people in the audience. Anyway, here’re the slides I used for the event:
There’s a perennial problem in games for learning: the mechanics of a game are often disassociated from the desired learning. I think part of this stems from educational game designers placing too much emphasis on specific subject matter content exacerbated by a misunderstanding of the object of their creation.
Too many educational games aren’t really that engaging as games. They focus on content and sometimes use only the superficial reward layer of games to motivate players to engage in the activity. (This is often called “gamification.”) These types of “games” keep getting made and will continue to be made so long as our educational policy/system continues to emphasize discrete disciplinary content assessed with brute force testing methods. In our effort to meet decontextualized standards, we’ve lost student engagement and somehow think that by making our stupidly meaningless activities give out badges and points that everything will be fine.
Sometimes engaging gameplay does exist, but the learning content is just inserted as interstitial segments between layers or levels of the actual game. An example could be a game that features pop-up screens with trivia between levels of, say, a first-person exploration game. Again this is because the designers are placing too much value onto these subject matter chunks of facts. They may understand what makes a game engaging but not how to incorporate these fact chunks into the activity. (Good examples of games that focus on the educational content in their game design include the work from CGS and Ululab.)
It should be obvious that I don’t think we should be dividing our education into disciplinary silos. Additionally, if you know me, you know that I’m much more interested in the processes of learning that players engage in during gaming than the actual content of their learning. I think these processes are the true power of gaming and that they can transfer to many other non-game situations.
To understand where I’m coming from, it helps to understand my definition of games. Recently, however, I’ve rethought and changed my definition, so I’ll explain that transformation here, too.
When I go to a cafe I want a cup of coffee. I already know how to order it. I already know the social convention of going to a counter and paying for it. I don’t necessarily think they should try to make that core experience into a game somehow.
Good games have interesting choices and compelling narratives. The gamification movement is focusing on the reward system, not the meat that makes good games good.
And, actually, when I go to a cafe, I’m already playing a game. Is it crowded? Maybe I should order a mocha instead of an americano so I don’t have to deal with the milk and sugar counter. What’s the most optimal way to get the best damn cup o joe I can?
I don’t want them to introduce underlying rules to what’s optimal. I don’t want them to dictate what gets rewarded, pushing me in a set direction. I want freedom to play the game the way I want to play.
When you realize that many parts of life… maybe all life… is a game, it’s very empowering. All you have to do is learn the rules. Then you can push and poke at those rules until you succeed. And by “success” I just mean you have agency in determining your own goals and getting what you want out of life. You have the power to create your own personal compelling narrative.