This blog contains my personal musings on games, learning, computers, engagement, fun, playfulness, technology, and other stuff that takes my fancy.
playful thoughts on games and learning
A couple of references that I’ve come across in the last couple of days.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the use of badges as a way for learners to gain recognition for their achievements, because they’ve come up on a couple of projects I’m working on. While, in principle, I’m very much in favour of an open, flexible assessment system such as badges, I do have some reservations to their use.
An academic colleague surprised me last week by saying “badges are a terrible idea, they’re for children, my students would think they were back in primary school.” Now this is a colleague who I had seen the evening before taking part in a ‘who can make the best napkin hat’ competition, so I know she’s certainly not averse to games and playfulness. She’s got a point: badges – like game-based learning – won’t appeal to everyone and may demotivate many students, but that’s not a reason to disregard them wholesale, more a call to thoughtfully consider how to use them to best effect.
For a gamification project I’m working on, drawing on research on games and motivation (as well as a fair amount of game playing), I’ve created some principles of badge system design for learning. These are really a first attempt, and I’d really appreciate any comments, feedback, suggestions, and additions.
As with any game-based element, I believe that badges can be used to motivate some of the people some of the time, if used thoughtfully and purposefully. My concern is that when they’re used ‘because we have the technology’ that they may end up actually pissing students off rather than motivating them. I’m going to finish with a quote from Werbach (2012) who reminds us: “don’t mindlessly attach extrinsic motivators to activities that can be motivated using intrinsic regulators.”
Werbach, K. (2012). For the win: how game thinking can revolutionise your business. Philidelphia, PA: Wharton Digital Press.
The Making Games in Collaboration for Learning (MAGICAL) project, in which we’re a partner, has just released an updated version of its list of game-making environments (pdf). It contains information about nearly forty different game-building tools, classified by cost, game-type, and type of access (i.e. online or download).
One thing that struck me is the lack of online tools for game-building. Given the practicalities of gaining access and installing software on most institutional computers, this is a real barrier to game-building in the classroom.
Well it’s another year over, and a new one just begun. Time for resolutions (blog more regularly, exercise more, eat less cake) and reflections. I thought that I’d start the new year with some thoughts about the five most memorable things that I’ve learned in 2013.
A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to Tampere to act as an opponent in a doctoral defence. Coming from the UK, where a PhD viva involves being asked difficult questions for a hour (if you’re lucky) followed by a quick pint (if you’re very lucky) the formality of a public viva, followed by a cake ceremony, followed by an evening banquet, was a bit intimidating, but not unwelcome. I shall certainly be trying to initiate the post-viva cake ceremony here.
I was invited to oppose the doctoral thesis of J. Tuomas Harviainen, which was based around an hermeneutic analysis of live action role play (LARP) from an information systems perspective. I was also pleased to meet Markus Montola, who successfully defended his doctoral thesis a few weeks before, in the area of role-play and pervasive gaming (Markus is also an author of Pervasive Games: Theory and Design, which – to my shame – has sat, unread, on my bookshelf for the last year).
It’s good to see some really sound and robust research and analysis in a neglected area of gaming, and both of these theses are well worth a read. I think that Finland is definitely somewhere to watch for interesting further developments in this area.
I’ve been engaged in some discussion on twitter about The Blood Typing Game, which is designed to demonstrate the principles of blood typing to a ‘younger audience’ (whatever that might be). In this ‘game’ players have to draw blood from a patient, put it in test tubes, interpret the results and, based on this, select appropriate blood types for a transfusion. Now, this is a nicely designed piece of multimedia, it’s easy to use, the interface is intuitive, and it’s aesthetically pleasing. It also certainly supports learning about blood typing, through tutorials and the ability to practice and make mistakes. But does this make it a game?
For me this is essentially interactive educational multimedia. Fiona Trapani argues that it fits the definition of a game: “goal, clear rules, feedback and voluntary” but these factors are not unique to games. There are ‘game’ elements present: the use of ‘missions’, scores, leaderboards, achievements. There’s even a basic narrative (‘twins are brought into the emergency room…’) that doesn’t seem to go anywhere or influence the core interaction in any way. You could remove all of these ‘game’ elements and you’d still have a nicely designed, easy-to-use, piece of interactive media for learning.
So is this a game, or simply the gamification of interactive educational media? I would have said the latter, for certain, but for Katie Piatt‘s comment that it is “playful”. I agree to some extent: you can take blood from the head instead of an arm, you can give the wrong blood type and make the patient scream, but the scope for exploration and play is very limited. Is this playfulness enough to make it a game? I’m not convinced.