I’m at the second European Conference on Game-Based Learning in Barcelona. I haven’t had time to see much of the city so far, but even the hotel is full of quirky interior design features, so that will keep me going for now.
The conference kicked off this morning with an enjoyable keynote from Simon Egenfeldt-Nielson. I really liked how he started off by pointing out the problems with ‘edutainment’; that it is often reward-based and lacking in intrinsic motivation, there is no integrated learning experience, and that it is based on drill-and-practice learning. I couldn’t agree more.
He then went on to talk about what makes a good educational game design, saying “a good learning game is also a good game. A good game is also a good learning game.” True, but perhaps missing the issue of what is being learned and whether it is appropriate. He gave the game ‘Bully’ as an example of a game where there is learning inbuilt (learning what it’s like to be in an English boarding school, apparently). Now I could rant for a long time on the ethics of this game, but aside from that, I’m still not sure I see the relevance of this learning.
Simon also presented an interesting framework for evaluating the learning from a game, looking at substantive elements that generate interest (audiovisual and story) and what he calls ‘verbs’ that generate engagement and challenge (a defined problem-space, choices and decisions, consequences, feedback, balance and rewards). He argued that a good learning game needs the right substantives and verbs, but also the following three elements:
- integration (how does the actual action in the game relate to the learning?);
- motivation (is the game activity motivational?);
- focus (does the game teach what you want it to teach?).
Finally, he talked about some of his own research and development work and how the games developed can be embedded within a curriculum. Interestingly, he found that despite extensive teacher support tools (manuals, worksheets, etc) on embedding the game and associated activities, there was still an expectation among teachers that they could simply let their students play the game.
A lot of my current thinking is around the importance of high-end production values for education games, and I asked Simon a question about how important he felt this was at the end. He responded saying that “games will always be more expensive than traditional learning” and that it is important that learners need recognise that something is a game before they engage with it, and that a higher-end environment leads to greater immersion. I’m not sure how much I agree with any of these points (particularly in HE) but it is certainly interesting to get a different perspective.