A chat about games in learning and the line between fun and learning

I had an interesting discussion over Google Talk this morning with Leonard Low, one of my edu colleagues here in Canberra about games and education that started by discussing games on the iPhone. Hope you don’t find the chat-speak too distracting but I think it’s good to be authentic rather than clean it all up for the appearance of professionalism.
Colin:do you play many games on your phone?
I’m finding that the more complex the game, the less my interest – controller issues I guess
Leonard: Not a lot of games actually. I use it mostly for music, media, and connectivity to Google Reader, email, etc.
Like you, I don’t like having to think about the control interface
Colin: yeah, too small I think, fiddly
Leonard: My favourite game? Pinball
All you can do is tap the screen :()
Colin: which one
Leonard: All of them … Wild West atm
Colin: got so obsessed with Peggle that I had to delete it
I’m afraid of what will happen when PLants vs zombies hits the phone
Leonard: Tapulous is also okay. But yeah, anything more complex and I just cbf
Colin: ok, I’ll take a look
Leonard: Haven’t tried Peggle ๐Ÿ™‚
Colin: might be best not to ๐Ÿ™‚
Leonard: Might have to see how it goes lol
Colin: nooooooooooooooooo
Leonard: That bad huh ๐Ÿ™‚
Colin: maybe I’m justweak
but it could be popcap
I had the same problem with bejewelled blitz on FB
evil, evil genius bastards
Leonard: Ahhh… popcap games are the BEST. ๐Ÿ™‚
Colin: yeah, trying to work out how to steal their secrets to apply to education
Leonard: Yeah one of my exes used to be addicted to them, I used to think about them a lot as well. ๐Ÿ™‚
Colin: simplicity and spectacle I reckon
constant rewards
Leonard: Simplicity in terms of a repeatable task, complexity in terms of endless combinations to apply the same basic task to
Colin: yeah
Leonard: Increasing levels of difficulty to provide escalating challenge
Colin: also simplicity in terms of interface – only ever one click/ one button push
Leonard: yep – pinball mechanics. Yvonne used to play almost all the Popcap games using just a mouse. No fiddly button presses or combos, just left click left click left click… ๐Ÿ™‚
Colin: Like the morphine drip buttons in hospitals perhaps
Leonard: lol. yeah, instant gratification ๐Ÿ™‚
Moar Popcap. Moooooar!
Colin: heh
Leonard: But…
I’ve been thinking about this whole games in education thing in considerably more depth lately
And I don’t like it altogether so much
Not so much as I used to
Colin: blasphemy
Leonard: I’m broadly classifying edugames into two categories
Colin: simulations?
Leonard: Games that enhance learning, and those that engage learners.
The former category is considerably more difficult to design and create.
(And do it well)
The latter, I feel, has considerable potential to utterly trivialise the learning experience if done badly
Colin: you can’t have engagement without enhancing learning?
well anything done badly is bound to not help
Leonard: Yes… but I think that edugames done badly are particularly bad
Colin: they make people dumber? ๐Ÿ™‚
Leonard: Because they actually DETRACT from the learning experience
Colin: fair point
Leonard: lol… not dunber. Just distracted.
Edugames that engage the learner with the GAME but not the LEARNING are really bad. :p
Colin: sure
Leonard: Y’know – the game itself is pretty good, but the learner doesn’t learn to love the actual material
So they never get the feeling that (for example) “maths is fun” – just “Mathaletcs (c) is fun”.
Colin: I think that drilling in key concepts / underpinning knowledge / language etc is where they can really shine
Leonard: Um… well, that’s kinda a particular kind of edugame. Drill and repetition.
Colin: of course
I’m not sure how to make more complex ones work yet
scenario based stuff
Leonard: It can be done reasonably well, but it’s a fairly limited genre
Colin: I guess most of my thinking is focussed on applications for base learning for VET
Leonard: Drill and repetition is, by its nature, fairly simple… complexity doesn;t work so well for drill & repetition, because d&R is supposed to be doing something small and simple lots and lots of times ๐Ÿ™‚
Colin: think it was George Siemens that said if he had 6 hours to learn something, he’d spend an hour learning it and 5 hrs practising
it’s all about the application of the info that you’re imparting I guess
Leonard: Yeees… but the question is practicing how. D&R allows the building of fundamental basic skills, but is not so good for building relational understanding of broad concepts.
Scenario-based or problem-based approaches allow for more complex relational skills building but are much more involved and difficult to design
Colin: Sure – you need to be able to apply them to a range of problems
Leonard: Especially in a game style
Colin: and the user/player still needs to have the base skills/knowledge to be able to apply them in that environment
kind of phase 2 really
Leonard: Yeah… unfortunately education just doesn’t have the kinds of games where significantly complex skills are built up from nothing to everything… not yet…
It’s why I’ve been looking at more complex games like WoW as being “successful” edugames…
Colin: yeah – probably two different sorts of games needed in education
Leonard: Because you can start knowing nothing but the game itself builds up your knowledge over time until you become an “expert”
Colin: it’s not hard to argue that most commercial games have a learning pathway built into them
Leonard: Absolutely
Colin: though most draw from gamer experience of similar games
but I’m with you that rpgs offer a great model
finding the balance between the richness of the experience and making it accessible enough for new gamerlearners is the trick
Leonard: Yeah – WoW, for example, doesn’t dictate what order you use abilities in, it just gives you the abilities, and by trying and dying a lot the “learner” figures out the best order to do things in
So you start with, like, 5 things you can do
But by the time you become more advanced you have probably 50 things that you’re constantly sequencing into optimal orders
Very, very complex
Now if you could apply the same principle to engineering, or carpentry, or whatever…
Colin: for sure
Leonard: You could train students in incredibly complex sequences of operations in just a couple of weeks (on a WoW timeline)
And not only the operations, but you’d have them debating the best orders and processes
Colin: you know, if a teacher could unlock those skills in the game when you have demonstrated them in the classroom
Leonard: Not a bad idea Col ๐Ÿ™‚
Colin: hmmm
Leonard: In WoW there are “trainers”
Colin: been looking around for a tool to build rpgs
Leonard: As you level up they “unlock” new abilities
Colin: haven’t found anything much as yet
Leonard: You’re basically doing the same thing, but with IRL trainers ๐Ÿ™‚
Colin: indeed
Leonard: That’s quite a cool idea actually ๐Ÿ™‚
Colin: so the game becomes a motivator / portfolio
Leonard: It gives the students an incentive to “level up” their learning to “unlock” the next set of learning/skills ๐Ÿ˜€
Yes, the game becomes a tracker of progress as well as a training tool ๐Ÿ™‚
Colin: what they can do in the world itself is the question – unlocking tools/costumes etc (map areas?) is a start
Leonard: Ah, here’s where I think it start going into the game vs learning thing again ๐Ÿ™‚
If it’s too gamey, it could distract a lot from the learning
Colin: sure – but perhaps if something seems too learning oriented it’s not as much fun
Leonard: Exactly
This is why I’m a little put off by most of the edugames I’ve been looking at
The balance is wrong in one direction or the other
Colin: sounds like a gap in the market to me
Leonard: It might be a gap that is difficult or impossible to hit
What you need to do to hit it
Colin: the greatest achievements of our day were all once considered impossible
Leonard: lol
Colin: to paraphrase someone
Leonard: Have you seen the YouTube video of the WoW characters playing an RPG where they go to an office?
Colin: yeah, I liked it
Leonard: THAT is the secret, dude.
It’s a spoof, but what they’re doing is a workplace scenario, played as a game
Colin: yeah true that
Leonard: It’s supposed to be funny (and it is) but I was sitting there the whole time thinking – um… heck that’s IT.
A learning game that focusses on the actual experience of a skill
Where you can make mistakes and perhaps the game punishes you (for being late, or not wearing the right gear, or whatever)
Or you can get rewarded for “learning” the right processes and putting them into practice
Colin: yep
how to build it / code it is the trick
Leonard: Like I said, there’s just nothing out there atm that really does it. Apart from America’s Army, at a basic level.
Colin: this looks interesting but doesn’t seem to support mmorpg
Leonard: But that was, like, multi-millions to build
Yeah – the MMORPG aspect of WoW is one of the things that makes it a particularly good learning environment
Colin: fer shizzle
Leonard: You screw up in WoW, everyone tells you lol
Colin: but people often guide complete strangers as well, which is great
Leonard: Absolutely
So I really do think that that kind of interactive environment is a successful model for what a good edugame could/should be like
But it’s bloody hard to pull off ๐Ÿ˜ฆ
Colin: yeah – I’m just afraid to start playing it
Leonard: Uh huh. It’s pretty immersive, but imagine how cool that would be if applied to education…
Colin: of course
Leonard: You’ve have whole communities of learners logging in at every opportunity to do daily “quests” where they repeat small tasks, you’d have groups collaborating on teams to accomplish bigger tasks…
Colin: we’re going to shift our virt world to second life – might see what can be done there
Leonard: Ugh, 2nd life is dead
Colin: yeah but our platform is worse
Leonard: Lol
Colin: and we have to show cross-platform ness
looking at a few other tools as well
Leonard: Kk… Dunno about Second Life though. It’s a dying fad, dude, you gotta look to the future
Colin: but at least SL has a pretty established code base
Leonard: Meh
Everyone’s leaving
Colin: yeah I know but so many platforms promise the world but are yet to deliver
Leonard: Second Life is the same. There are dozens of companies that built presences in Second Life because they were told it was the next frontier of business and they’re closing down their islands
Find something better
Colin: that’s the question
Leonard: If there is no answer, wait until there is.
Colin: but I want it noooowwwwwwwwww
Leonard: lol
Colin: maybe some kind of farmville model
dunno, haven’t played it
Leonard: I’m not asking you to wait for the “perfect” environment. “Perfect” is the enemy of “good”. Just wait until there’s something good, though
Farmville. Sims.
Something like that perhaps ๐Ÿ™‚
I can just see it…
Colin: CITville
Leonard: Sim CITy
Colin: heh
Leonard: Simpson’s CITy even ๐Ÿ™‚
Colin: well that might offer fewer legal challenges
Leonard: rofl
Colin: but we used CAPS – it’s different, really
Leonard: Toootally. ‘Cos caps are cooler. ๐Ÿ˜€
Colin: FeR sUre
(how do the young folk type like that)
Leonard: In any case, I guess what I’ve been trying to say is that good edugames make the actual learning content fun, not just the game experience.
Colin: yep
with you on that
Leonard: So that a student actually enjoys maths, or biology or whatever, not just the biology game
Colin: and contextualises it
shows why it is important and useful
Leonard: Yup – games that make the learning seem more relevant, more useful, or demonstrate the application of the skills being learned
THOSE are successful edugames
And that’s why simulation games provide one possible model
(But there are others)
Colin: indeed
good chat
Leonard: The crappy stoopid ones are lots of fun, but pretty much otherwise pointless, imo
Colin: do you mind if I use parts on my gamerlearner blog
Leonard: Not at all, quote away lol
Colin: sweet – trying to get back into that
Leonard: Good stuff, I’m bloggin a bit more lately too, it’s good to keep it up ๐Ÿ™‚
Colin: yeah, I want to start connecting more with the edu community
make my fortune ๐Ÿ™‚
Leonard: Lol
Fame first at least ๐Ÿ˜‰
Colin: (stoopid worthy and not profitable career choice)
Leonard: Well… until they release your first commercial game title and it takes over the gaming world because it’s so addictive
Colin: bwah haa haaaa
Leonard: The downside is that it’s a game designed for air conditioning mechanics, and the world sudenly has an oversupply of them :p
Colin: fights global warming at least I guess
Leonard: rofl
This entry was posted in casual games, education, elearning, game design, mmog, second life, simulation. Bookmark the permalink.

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