Game features in formal learning

Original photo by Vancouver Film School.

Recently, we had a very short talk about the video games potential on learning. StarCraft was being used as learning tool for complex environments, pattern recognition and strategy response. Thus, we saw that every video game  is a learning tool, but not necessarily a formal learning tool. That means that one might not actual learn/practice math in WoW, but the game environment presents situations that math can be used for best outcome or which work in a mathy way, so that the player end up learning but not always is aware of that.

Today, we are going the other way around and take a look on how game features can be used in formal education. In order to be a game, a device must have some features. There are innumerable ways to classify and interpret those features, from a narrative point of view to a ludologic outlook or even a mechanical perspective. But for analysis,  I’ll use a remix of a bunch of them into some points that most games have:

  1. Instant Feed-back – Video games tell you instantly if you action succeed or not; if you jump correctly from one platform to another or if you crashed and burned. That’s important because the player can recognize a doomed strategy and move on to others.
  2. Little emphasis on fail – You died? Oh, blast. Restart from the last save point and try again! This encourage creative solutions and taking risks, since that, if you fail, you can retry with none or little punishment.
  3. Mission accomplishment – You are assigned of a quest, of an “Epic Quest”. To accomplish that major quest, that will change the word forever, you have to do minor quest. Minor quests are important because they provide you with needed items, experience points (XP) and money. So, you always have in mind the big picture [EPIC QUEST!], the small picture [minor quests] and the relation between them, that’s why you do minor quest [but, generally, not all of them].
  4. Team work – In some games [mostly RPGs], different characters have different abilities. Those abilities complement each other in order to achieve better results. It’s not easy for most to create or maintain social relashionships [if it was easy, there wouldn’t be so many divorces] but we can achieve more together than alone.  The classical example is the DPS/Tank/Healer WoW trio, present in one way or another in most RPGs.  In Real Live we also have those different abilities, but since there is no objective way mo measure them, no abilities chart, is not always easy to find a team in which the members have complementary skills and work great together.

These are only a few game features, but they are the most valuable and suitable for application in other activities of Real Live in my point of view. There are not many cases of using these features in education itself as there is on business, but there are some good examples.

Lee Sheldon is a game design and screenwriting professor at Indiana University, but before that, he has written and designed 20 commercial video games and MMOs. So, having all this game knowledge, he figured that the common college evaluation system  wasn’t really challenging and engaging to most students. So, he created a new one, based on RPG structures. That way, his students have a avatar and guilds, receive XP points for complete quest and evolve. Quests can be labeled “solo” [individual], “pick-up group” [small group from different guilds]  and “guild”, in order to students experience different types of tasks accomplishment and social interaction. In the middle of the semester, there is a Boss Raid, which is described below.

[A] couple of weeks ago I took 60 questions (40 would be used on the exam), and we had a guild vs. guild PvP session. Each guild had a single copy of the 2 books we use in class. They were allowed to look up answers in the  books, but were required to close books before shouting out their zone name (like hitting a buzzer) to answer a question. At first the person holding the book would try to immediately memorize the answer. This proved problematic since some required up to 8 elements (reduced to 2 or 3 on the actual exam). So pretty soon guilds were dividing up the elements, one person taking only one. That tactic gave way to writing down the answers, since the rules didn’t prohibit that. And soon they were using cell phones to simply photograph the needed page, and reading from the photos. These emerging strategies are exactly how guilds learn to defeat mobs in a boss raid, learning from their wipes, modifying their approach, until at last they bring the beast down. I thought it was very cool.

So, taking in account only this Boss Raid, it is evident that Lee used team work [guilds], instant feedback [as real-time game, with instant results], little emphasis on fail [with 60 questions they always had to focus on answering the next one] and mission accomplishment [it was a BOSS RAID!]. He created one [great] interpretation of these features to RL, but there isn’t only one way to do it.

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