Games and Schools

Oh man, the confluence of two of my favorite things and biggest influences…

Turning things into games is a big deal these days. Looking up “gamification” on Google gets over three million hits. Games are no doubt a bigger deal than they’ve ever been in the past, mostly due to ubiquitous game consoles, cell phone games, and oddities like elderly folks using Game Boys to stay mentally sharp. Some folks are looking to make such oddities become more and more regular.

The Quest to Learn school, and probably a few others, seeks to educate its students primarily through games. A pair of links are at the bottom of this article.

I think it’s a fascinating idea. On the one hand, I’m worried that people trained and educated in a game-heavy manner will have trouble when the game ends. On the other hand, it’s already true that people who are trained and educated in the current system have trouble when they can’t five-paragraph-essay and problem-set their way through life or work. Kind of a toss-up there.

I know that personally, my mind has a massive capacity for useless game-related facts. I can run original D&D without notes. I still remember which weapon and armor types are best from games I haven’t played through in fifteen years. I remember the names of bad guys from Crystal Quest… from the Apple IIGS. If you don’t remember that computer, it’s probably older than you. I also remember currencies because of Carmen Sandiego, and I learned about AND, OR, and NOT gates from Rocky’s Boots.

On the down side, education is not about random facts. Some things you can absorb well from games and generalize to other arenas. If you want to learn strategy, Chess, Go, poker, and various RPGs are known to help. (Anecdotally, at least.) I’ve seen someone who knows economics destroy people in Monopoly. There are the memory games I mentioned before and their positive effects on the elderly. There are absolutely good things about games. I’m just saying that it’s not a magic pill – you can do it well, or you can do it poorly. Rocky’s Boots was slow as hell, but it taught me the basics of how logic gates work and how computers work at age 10. Carmen Sandiego was interesting and fun, but all I got out of it was random facts. I already knew how to use an almanac.

Game-oriented learning, regardless of its level of potential (high or low), is going to be very difficult to do well. As I’ve gotten older (and I’m only 33), my tolerance for new tabletop RPG rules and such has decreased. I’ve seen this in my gamer friends as well, many of whom just aren’t interested in learning any new systems at age 30. Even good ones. People can sniff out a crappy game from a single look at the box or the title screen. If you want to educate, you don’t necessarily have to entertain at every second, but you do have to engage people and capture their interest. It’s not trivial to do that.

Wait, I just had a brainstorm. (No, seriously, like, as I’m writing.)

We have a hard problem. If we can get together a bunch of good coders, educators, and game designers, with this level of difficulty, we can get them into a flow state. So if we can make a game that’s about making education games…




About Colin Fredericks

By day I help to create online courses at HarvardX. By night I write roleplaying games.

Posted on February 22, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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