This might be the new game changer that is coming our way in education, but how well do we know games. Is it our nostalgic Super Mario Memories, or our obsessive World of Warcraft addiction? Games in education are a lot more than that. Right off the bat, it is not simply changing the way we present content, but it is changing the way we think about education itself.
On one very hot summer day, in one of my last-period-of-the-day Literature session, my students were almost asleep, and all the wonderful figures of speech and very talented uses of language or meaning did not mean anything to them. I was able to relate to that; after six hours of rigorous schooling, their energy was drained. Then I accidentally asked about the good video games there were out there in the market, and all hell broke loose. Arguments were all over the place about the top ten video games at that time, the best way to defeat the Lich King in Warcraft, and the very early fun-or-not-so-fun argument about Candy Crush, which was not nearly as popular as it is today. When it was time for them to go to their buses and home, they were not rushing out, as usual, forgetting to say see you tomorrow, Mister, as usual. It was not that I had not known that this topic was more interesting to them than anything else we might teach at schools, but I began then to search for this mystery behind game loving. I have always loved games of all kinds, but I had never thought about the elements of a good game before that incident in my class.
Our concept of gaming is very much different from our students’. I remember one time, I tried to gamify an activity in class. I drew a river with stepping rocks in the scattered all over. To pass from one side to the next, students had to answer questions, and the longer the jump was, the more difficult the question was. Students in groups had to compete to get to the other bank of the river first.
I have to admit that the whole experience was excellent, and the students loved the game, the first couple of times we played it. However, the stepping stones game lost its appeal, so it was more of a fun learning activity than it was an educational game. When I thought about why that happened later, I realized that the fun part was due to its routine-breaking main feature, but the elements of a good game were missing. It was a way to get feedback from the students, or to assess their progress in the shape of a so-called game. Unfortunately, many educational games today are more or less like my stepping stones learning activity. Why can’t we get our students to be addicted to an educational game that will promote their higher thinking skills and all? Why can’t we crush the competition of too-simple Candy Crush? Why is the Lich King more important than Shakespeare? I hope we will find answers to all these questions in the coming posts of Educational Games on Hungry Writer, but just a heads up, let’s stop thinking about the game part before the educational one. That’s how Bethesda and Electronic Arts are ahead. Stay tuned.