Interesting Slashdot discussions on games in education

Slashdot is widely considered the place to go for geek discussion about all matters I.C.T related. There have been a couple of discussions up there recently about games in education – what makes the work and what makes them fail. I think it’s well worth getting the perspective of players and there are a range of interesting points raised.

The first discussion was sparked by an article on Slate called World of Borecraft which bemoaned the way that “serious games” suck the fun out of the gaming experience. A counterbalancing article on the excellent game development site Gamasutra called Who says games have to be fun? adds some interesting insights into games in education and activism.

Slashdotters observed that:

  • “If games aren’t fun, people won’t play them… we find games fun because we are learning and constantly challenged”
  • “the much more obvious common denominator is: rewards. Give players their favourite rewards often. It doesn’t have to be big rewards, it just has to feel like having achieved something. And keep doing it. That’s what makes games fun.”
  • “…the entire concept of play is based on learning. Just look at animals playing. Now look at kids playing. They are learning everything from refined motor skills to problem solving to empathy, character judgement, following directions, cause & effect, etc etc etc etc. “

The second discussion came in response to an article about the failure of a university developed game called Arden: World of Shakespeare. Among the criticisms (from the game’s own designer) included the fact that the game simply wasn’t any fun.

Given the MMORPG nature of Arden, it’s not surprising that a lot of the ensuing discussion revolved around this particular genre however there were broader issues covered as well, including:

  • “Once the game stops being fun, the only thing to keep it going is the sense of community with the people you’re playing with. Once that’s gone, people move on.”
  • “Whenever a regular MMO changes it’s rules, an almost instant flamewar commences and many people leave the game. If you want people to play your game, and keep playing your game, you will not be able to simply change the rules to test some theory of yours concerning economics… No, you’ll have to be busy keeping people interested, and not randomly changing the rules is one aspect of that!” (This reflects the need for consistency expressed in The Computer Game Design Course)
  • “Games on interesting and intelligent topics that encourage the curious player to learn more. You should never ram the educational bit down the players throats.” (This comment from the designer of a Democracy Game)

I’m not sure that this really settles the notion of where fun comes from but it’s clear that if you don’t bring the fun, you lose the gamers.

(Thanks to George Siemens over at who found these originally and added his thoughts, which include the fact that ” Games fit the typical profile of academic envy, namely the condition where we see many people doing something and desire to then use the same tools or processes for teaching and learning. Sometimes it works very well…other times the effort required exceeds the potential outcome.”)

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2 Responses to Interesting Slashdot discussions on games in education

  1. Leonard Low says:

    Most people who are interested in the use of popular media and platforms for education come at it from one perspective or the other: they’re developers trying to make a game, which they brand as “educational,” (even if it’s really bad pedagogically or even contains completely incorrect information or assumptions!), or they’re educators suffering Siemens’ “academic envy” where they construct pedagogically sound experiences which really suck as games, because they’re – well, they’re not games, they’re just lessons repackaged using a different medium.

    Developing a *really good* edugame requires thinking outside either of these mindsets, as well as thinking within both. In terms of the latter, you can draw on many of the strengths offered by games which are inherently useful approaches for learning, such as chance, discovery, and achievement. In terms of the former, creating any kind of user experience (even an edugaming one) must be based on the realisation of a good idea. There are bad games; there are bad learning activities; and there will be bad edugames combining the worst from either or both. There will also be some that are terrific – and these don’t need to be expensive, billion-polygon games. Some of the most enduring edugames have been the simplest, such as “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego”. The trick is getting the idea right… the actual game is just a means of expressing that idea!

  2. colinsimpson says:

    You’re absolutely right Len – gameplay is everything.

    I don’t think we’ve yet uncovered the different ways that educational content can be provided using game elements – the three most important I believe are rules, goals and challenges. These are what keep people playing the game – caring enough about the game to want to beat it.

    People don’t play to learn, they play to have fun – all the while enjoying the fact that they are learning.

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