ELTM5C: Games-Fixing Reality

In Part 3 of “Reality is Broken” Jane Mcgonigal describes games in which large groups of people are working collaboratively to solve some of the world’s largest problems. Another four fixes are outlined.

11. Build a sustainable engagement economy The ordinary work of getting on with society requires the existence of a large number of collaborative organizations, most of which rely on the services of volunteers. Competition for person hours is fierce. There are a lot of organizations chasing after volunteers. People are busy though and requests for assistance are not welcome. Playing the “guilt” or “duty” cards is ineffective. How, then, to get the work done?

Compensation? It’s just not effective for encouraging people to sustain work for which pay is not normally expected. Once pay is given that becomes the norm; it’s then expected as a matter of course, regardless of how appropriate this may be. The fact remains that there are many tasks in society for which pay is not normally given—and furthermore that’s probably the way it should be. The challenge, then, is to find ways to get people to participate anyway.

So, how about introducing elements of gaming into the picture?

Here’s an example: The Newspaper “The Guardian” obtained access to hundreds of thousands of filed expense claims and found itself unable to make sense of them in the time required. As a response it devised a gamified, crowd-sourced procedure in which citizens were able to assist in the required analysis. A significant number of irregularities were uncovered.

Consider Wikipedia as a participatory game: It is successful for several reasons: It has a Good (a) game world; Large and many sided (b) game mechanics system (c) Feedback and rewards (d) game community (e) Interaction and conflict resolution. Due, possibly, to all of this the Wikipedia project has been massively successful. It is enormous in size and, as time goes on, the credibility of its information is growing.

Now consider the online game World of Warcraft (WOW), an online game played—often obsessively—by millions of players. Potentially Wikipedia could have been built by the WOW community in 3-4 days if the players had been able to direct their energies to it.

After all, if gamers are so anxious to be engaged them why not channel their efforts to real-world projects?

There are already some examples of this, albeit at a smaller scale. For example, in the project Folding at Home, the participants share the effort required to investigate complex protein shapes.

One wonders though, about the validity of this line of reasoning. After all, much of the work that is required in this world does not lend itself to a gamified environment. Take the case of elected school (or health care) boards. To them is entrusted the proper governance of a whole school district. How acceptable would it be to add game elements to the processes of setting school priorities, deciding which schools to close and debating educational policy? Somehow the word ‘game’ just plain trivializes a deadly serious pursuit.

Additionally, it seems trite to say that WOW gamers could have built Wikipedia. Take a glance through several articles. It is not hard to see the care and dedication with which most of the articles were prepared. Contrary to what some think, the articles are of generally good quality—and getting better. I’d be lost without it. To just assume that a group of people, with nothing more in common than a love of online entertainment, would actively take an interest in this is to seriously misunderstand humanity. We all have our interests. For many, yes, it is in working at intellectual/professional pursuits for the betterment of society. For many, though, just everyday survival is about all that can be managed and a welcome, relaxing release of frustration might be all that separates them from despair.

I brought son#1 to work at 7am, after folding a load of laundry and washing a load of towels. Went to work where, in addition to working on numerical analysis of this year’s various performance indicators I helped untangle a developing HR situation, responded to several public requests for information, visited the Registrar’s office for forms for son#2, did a job for OH during lunch, met with several colleagues, picked up sons 1 and 2 after work, prepared supper and, of course, cleaned up afterwards then folded that load of wash from earlier this morning. I figure I’ve done my share. I have nothing to give now and am just writing a bit; my therapy. Heading out to pick up OH from work at 10. Save the world? Not today.

12. More epic wins. Our world is facing many large-scale issues including: hunger, climate change, economic crises. These require equally large scale action for which mission support is vital. Social participation games such as Groundcrew and Lost Joules are examples of how this can be done. Assuming that people are willing to put the time in, some of this just might work. But who does the work?

13. Ten Thousand Hours Collaborating Perhaps you’ve read “Outliers?”  In that bestselling work, author Malcolm Gladwell did a lot to make popular the idea, based in large part on work by Anders Ericsson, that mastery of skills generally comes after significant (ten-thousand hours is a popular way of saying it) practice. Young gamers spend huge periods of time; certainly enough to qualify most them as masters at…something besides twiddling thumbs and fingers on game controllers. Because modern games are collaborative it’s to be expected that today’s young people can be especially good collaborators, likely having spent those magical 10,000 hours at it by age 21.

Of course, the skeptic can’t help but present a few pertinent items:

  • Is it valid to state that “collaboration” is a skill in the same sense as is, say, playing a musical instrument or playing a particular position in hockey?
  • Data set of one: I suck at softball and I am pretty sure I have spent my 10,000 hours at it. At least it feels like it. Just kidding—sort of.

Besides the time spent by the participants, today’s games offer an excellent platform for collaboration. Consider Little Big Planet where players join with up to four others and get to explore the world, virtually, together.

Still, one wonders, if this will translate. Just because you play well with others in a gaming environment it’s not necessarily the case they you’ll play nicely elsewhere, is it?

“Emergensight” is the ability to thrive in a chaotic environment. Effective collaborators apparently have this in droves, adept, as they are, in complex fast-moving environments. That said, as far as I can see there’s no telling whether there is a causal connection and, if so, in which directions(s) the effect works.

Much of rationale behind what’s stated in the book is based on the findings of Positive Psychology.  Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson, for example, in “Character Strengths and Virtues” delineated 24 categories down into six categories:

  • Wisdom & knowledge
  • Courage
  • Humanity
  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Transcendence

Several well-designed games including Lost Ring take advantage of this by building in characters that exemplify each of these categories.

I have to admit to having something of an overriding bias toward what I shall term “Classical Psychology”—you know, the one most people refer to when they drop the term “Psychology.” Think about it for a minute: classical psychology is somewhat “negative” in nature, tending to dwell on and study those traits that are generally unwanted or the absence of desired characteristics. By contrast, Positive Psychology strives to do more-or-less the opposite; to study strengths and desired characteristics.

It’s just…well…

At this stage the field of Positive Psychology is not developed well enough to satisfy the huge skeptic that lurks within me. Yes, it’s true that many bright, skilled people have devoted significant amounts of time researching the field; fleshing it out. Classical psychology, though, for all its flaws has at least a 100 year head start. As such it’s easier to find platforms on which people more-or-less agree, all wrapped up there in DSM4 and DSM5. Positive psychology is not there just yet.

Please do not misunderstand; this not, in any way, an attempt to slight that emerging field. It is, though, an effort to remind…myself, if nobody else…that positive psychology has a way to go before it can produce so trustworthy a document as the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual. Yes, THEY are pretty controversial documents; it’s been fun following the proceedings that led to DS5. Here’s a fascinating glimpse into that. It’s just that we know or at least can access the debate and data that left us with them. As for Positive Psychology—while there’s no doubt (at least in my mind) that it contains quite a large amount of value, I’m pretty much equally sure that it’s still in need of lot more refinement.

14. Massively Multiplayer foresight is something that happens when a sufficient number of good people turn their attention to a problem.

World Without Oil was a massive online thought experiment/game in which contributors supplied “what if’s” as they considered our future in the absence of easily available petro-energy. The game was played by around 9000 individuals over 32 days, representing 32 weeks of progress through that scenario. It was found that, at first, many of the contributions were rather dark in nature but as the game wore on, the players shifted and instead began supplying potential solutions to the problems that had been uncovered.

They became SEHI’s (Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals); players on a more global playing-out of gaming environments.

The term Superstruct was coined to represent the act of extending on existing structures, not to enlarge them, but instead to take them off in new directions. This requites individuals who are empowered to collaborate at more extreme scales. The Institute for the Future produces annual ten-year forecasts. The first superstruct was built to help produce one of its ten-year forecasts. Players were expected to move in new, novel directions while still having a clear goal in mind. Players were tasked with tackling these five “super threats;”

  • Disease and other threats to health
  • Hunger
  • Moving to sustainable energy
  • Security, both personal and organizational
  • The need for government dedicated to a sustainable way of life

Overall, approximately 9000 participants contributed ideas and information in an effort to “Vanquish” these threats for the year 2019.

From this, other superstructs have emerged including ones dedicated to:

  • Producing wearable energy producing devices.
  • Providing people with low cost access to seeds
  • Organizing humanitarian efforts in places difficult to service.

Evoke, a new game to assist young people in mobilizing to positively changing the world, was designed to be played on just about any type of electronic equipment, including low-powered, low-bandwidth devices that are often all that are available in third-world regions. Early results seem to be encouraging. Visit the site–it’s intriguing, to say the least.

I’m tired.

Reading “Reality is Broken” was a stimulating exploration of how the things that make games great could potentially also make our world a better place. It was not just thoughtful; it was well-written. The author is a gifted storyteller who skillfully weaves interesting, relevant exemplars all through the main ideas. What’s more the ideas and the terms are fresh—at least to me; a breath of clean air wafting through my poor dusty mind.

But, yes, I’m tired. After making my way through this worthwhile read I’m still left somewhat unmoved. Yes, games are fun, powerful and most importantly effective in getting people to act.

But they’re still games.

And life is not always a game.

Not to me, at least.

Think about it—there’s a line between “applying principles of psychology to influence others to perform necessary tasks efficiently and well” and “manipulating others so that they do what you want them to do.” The most important point of distinction between the two is the issue of deciding just what it is we want others to do. We don’t need to just get clever and sly at manipulating people.

In developed countries governments, of all types, rely on the messy process of advanced democracy to help with the decision making: committees, public debates, white papers—that sort of thing. Larger corporations utilize much of this but usually have to layer in an added focus on profits. Individuals and smaller enterprises? Well, they essentially follow their own rules. Sometimes the actions are informed by a well-developed structure of ethics and responsibility. Sometimes not.

The thing, then, is to keep a close eye on what we do. “Making a game out of it” can be a very positive thing for all who decide to participate but the experience must be appropriate. Care should be taken that choice is always available. Game dynamics are certainly powerful for many, but not all. They’re also insidious. It could easily become the case that the game becomes the thing and attention comes off that which the game was supposed to accomplish.

I’ll freely admit to perhaps being too old for much of this. Games don’t have the effect on me that they have on today’s typical electronic gamer (who’s more likely a 20 or 30 something. I’m nowhere there.) I’ll also admit to preferring other things (music, reading, writing, being a generally non-gaming geek yes that’s possible) to games—and that’s just a personal thing. But, I don’t dislike games. I play all types in moderation. I do other things too.

My teaching specialties are mathematics and physics. They’re generally hard to teach and hard to learn. Please don’t believe the total bullshit from those who would like you to believe they are easy. If, after all, they were easy then there’d be no need for people like me. Those who insist otherwise are either just “touching the tops of the trees” or are outright lying to you. Come on!

Hard yes, but I don’t HAVE to use game-based tools and strategies to build learning activities  to get them done. I don’t have to, but sometimes I will. Maybe even ‘frequently.’ Like all educators I have a full toolbox. Just as you don’t just use a hammer to build a house, you also don’t try to teach with just one method. You bring in the right tool to do the job. Sometimes you even get to choose between several.

And at those times, learning situations infused with game-based elements might be just the thing.

ELTM5B: Games-Applying the Principles; Alternate Realities

It’s possible—often desirable—to take that which makes games so much fun and apply those principles to real life. In so doing you offer the very real possibility of making lives so much more fulfilling; so much more worthwhile. As I drafted this post I was also struck by two nagging questions: “Is this for everyone?” and, more importantly “Are there any hidden dangers that we may wish to avoid?”

In part A (the previous post) it was described how the book “Reality is Broken” explains why games affect us in a positive way. Part 2 builds on this and explores how alternate reality games apply the related strategies to real life. Author Jane Mcgonigal lists and expands on three new fixes that game-related elements can bring to reality.

7. Wholehearted participation means that people (a) are involved voluntarily (b) are interested in the outcome and (c) actively participate. The chapter opens with a description of Chore Wars, a web-based application that allows groups (families, roommates, etc.) to compete for experience points obtained through completing common tasks. Being part of a household that also includes four young people between the ages of 16 and 22, as you expect, I often find myself at the centre of…creative tension…around the delegation of chores. It was therefore with great pleasure that I visited the site and created the structure for my household. I invited the five other members to the game and waited with eager anticipation. I also did my best to ‘market’ this to my fellow home dwellers.

It’s been a week now and, unfortunately, it does not seem to be working although I’m progressing fairly well and gaining lots of experience points.

I’m taking a break now to: sweep the floors, clean the bathroom, do some laundry, cook dinner and wash the dishes. Might even slip in mowing the lawn and watering the posies as there seem to be no takers from today’s list online. Pretty soon I should be ‘the boss.’ Yes, that’s irony.

Schools were next, noting that they are generally built around a series of necessary obstacles. These mandatory, standardized tasks produce negative stress and are increasingly disconnected from the virtual world inhabited by today’s young people. She does acknowledges the presence of educational games but states that these are more an add-on; not integrated and as such, are insufficient. One particular charter school has built its curriculum around gaming, much of which is collaborative. While most schools are organized around a series of necessary obstacles (tests, midterms, assignments, etc.) this one was designed to build in the unnecessary obstacles so vital in games. Students collect experience points by completing individual and cooperative tasks. Major milestones that would normally be achieved through major examinations and such are instead handled through a leveling up process. Students, of course, get ‘do overs’ when necessary and can take on optional quests (enrichment) for added value. As of the time of writing the school was enjoying great success and was expecting to expand in future years.

The veteran educator in me viewed this story with skepticism. At the risk of alienating some readers I admit to a deep suspicion around (a) schools outside the mainstream (many of them cater to only a sub-set of the population whereas as a public school educator my own passion is that ALL students avail of the same opportunities) and (b) wholesale and radically different approach to schooling (they generally centre on the efforts of one key individual who is more interested in THEIR view of the world rather than in the collected wisdom of all their colleagues; that is they are often ego-driven and unsustainable). I did, easily see how the techniques employed by that school could and should be expanded upon and put out there for all educators to use—powerful new tools to be added to the already-existing set; not replacements.

And for the sake of fairness I will emphasize that this is not the case for many, many alternative schools which have been set up with the earnest intention of bettering the lives of all the students where the existing public institutions could not. The school mentioned was also most definitely the work of a single individual. Clearly a large group of dedicated individuals had placed a huge stake in it.

Finally, “Super Better” was introduced; a game experience in which you complete five tasks:

  • Create a secret identity & storyline that’s meaningful to you.
  • Recruit allies who will help give and reward your achievements toward healing.
  • Find bad guys; activities & triggers that work against you. Prepare to vanquish them.
  • Identify power-ups; things that work for you.
  • Create to-do list and progress through it.

Looking through the above list you can see that the designer has very cleverly turned proven and effective approaches to wellness and has restructured them into a system that has powerful feedback and reward systems. Even the skeptic within me likes this one!

8. Meaningful Rewards when we need them most. Many modern-day game designers are followers of the “new games movement” which likely draws its roots from the 1970s when overall efforts were undertaken to make games increasingly: cooperative, social and inclusive. Whether the games are electronic, a hybrid mix of online and traditional activities, or, for that matter any type (and, hey, this includes ordinary sports such as Tchoukball) it is reemphasized that the ‘thing’ is in playing the games; not winning.   It is on increasing the overall quality of life. Even when gamers lose, much pleasure is still to be found. Good sports, for example, will have no problem in shaking hands or in typing “gg” (good game) after a game is over, regardless of the outcome. It’s about the competition, about giving your personal best within the boundaries of the rules, about finding and then extending your limits.

It’s especially nice when games can provide rewards when they are most needed. Two flight-related games are worth noting; games that could easily enhance the experiences of weary or fearful flyers. “Jetset” is a game that ‘knows’ which airport you are at encourages you to perform simulated  airport screening as accurately and quickly as you can. It rewards you for new locations and efficiency. In so-doing it may also make you more sympathetic to what’s behind the whole process, both good and bad. “Day in the Cloud,” sponsored by Virgin, empowers teams on different flights to compete based on puzzle-solving and general knowledge. The tasks require the cooperation of teams on each flight. This activity helps draw cohorts of flight mates together while actively engaging them during their time.

Nike+, is another example. Getting its data from chips implanted in the shoes it motivates and rewards runners for real achievements and then sets new challenges.

Foursquare, the online ‘check-in’ application that encourages participants to log their current location and then share it is also worth noting. One particular reward of note: the mayor. For any given location, the individual with the most check ins is regarded as the unofficial mayor of that location. This leaves open the possibility for friendly competitions on who can become the mayor of that place.

Throughout all of this, I have the most uncomfortable feeling right in the pit of my stomach, Perhaps I am getting too old and too jaded but frankly that stuff just throws me off. Why?

Mile One Centre is a stadium located a short distance from my home. It’s a well-designed and well-run place that does an excellent job of putting off sporting events, especially Ice Hockey (Mile One is home to the St. John’s Ice Caps) and concerts of every variety. It’s civilized, comfortable and the prices are not too bad. I enjoy attending events there. I’m seeing KISS there on Aug 4 :-)

Then there’s that damned score clock: right up there above centre ice. It’s a four-sided behemoth that provides you with game stats and instant replay among other things.

And from time to time it exhorts the crowd to cheer.

The damned electronic clock wants the crowd to cheer. “Get Loud!” it proclaims in 2 metre high letters.

My arse!

If I want to get loud I’ll damned well get loud. An electronic clock will not make me do it. In fact NOTHING at Mile One gets me as annoyed as seeing that message. When I see it I sulk—on principle.

That, more or less, explains what I dislike about this. But, nonetheless, here it is in bullet form:

  • Games like jetset also try and make me feel less annoyed with the airport security screening process. No, thanks. I shall choose to be annoyed with it no matter what you all do. No, don’t stop. I want to you keep the weapons and people who hold them off my flight. Just don’t expect me to smile my way through it and I’ll afford you the same courtesy.
  • Joining with the others on my flight playing trivia? Nope. I brought a book; several in fact, right here on my Nexus 7. Always do.
  • Foursquare and check ins? Lord save us! Where I am at any point during the day is none of your $@#!% business! Do you really think I’m stupid enough to think you’re not using my location/shopping information for your own purposes? Get real!
  • Oh, and Nike+, you just plain scare me. Until it says “We absolutely guarantee you that we are not selling your biometric data and here’s the form that says you can sue the pants off us if it’s ever found otherwise,” Just not doing it. 😉

9. More fun with strangers is another suggested benefit. While friendly introverts like me are generally inclined to leave strangers be, I read on with interest. The first example,  a game called “Ghosts of a Chance,” was designed to generate more real community involvement in part of the Smithsonian. The scenario involved a pair of ghosts who needed the museum to better reflect their own history so visitors to the museum’s website were challenged to contribute homemade ‘artifacts’ that would fulfill the need. A second example, “Bounce” endeavoured to get young people more interested and involved in the lives of those older than them. A “senior experience agent” (senior citizen) was paired with someone much younger and the challenge was to find as many points of connection between them in 10 minutes. The questions were chosen from a list by computer. Both projects were successful. By adding the elements of gaming to the overall interactions people were more inclined to perform them.

10. Happiness hacking refers to translating practical aspects from positive psychology into game mechanics. Three examples:

  • Kindness of strangers. The “jen ratio” refers to the ratio of positive human interactions to negative ones. Clearly it’s desirable to have as high a jen ratio as possible. One way of achieving this is a version of “Assassin” called “Cruel to be Kind.” or C2BK. In traditional assassin players are divided into two teams and attempt to ‘kill’ one another with harmless weapons such as water pistols. In C2BK the two teams can only use certain pre-chosen ‘kind’ phrases such as “What a nice shirt!” or “I hope you have a great day!” to ‘kill’ opponents. In assassin, when innocents are struck (by the water pistol) it’s not necessarily a pleasant occasion for anyone. In C2BK, by contrast, the collateral damage is just a misplaced kind phrase. Overall, the expectation is that, while having fun, the teams are helping to spread random acts of kindness.
  • Playing Respects. That’s not a typo. “Playing” is indeed the correct term. In this admittedly controversial game, intended to get more people out to visit cemeteries and, hopefully, discover and celebrate the lives of the departed, players use features of headstones to build poker hands. The game Tombstone Hold ‘Em is played by teams of pairs. The headstones can have one of four shapes (square, round, statue or pointy), each corresponding to a suit. There are additional simple rules that allow you to easily determine the value of the “card.” Pairs of player partners must be able to touch the two stones needed to make their hand. Highest “hand” wins. The intent is not to be disrespectful but, rather, to get people out to visit the graves and to discover the lives of those who were one among us.
  • Dance secret: Top Secret Dance Off is a game that encourages people to express themselves through dance. At each challenge you must video yourself (in disguise, of course, else it would not be top secret) and upload your video to the game website where other participants help you with the scoring/leveling up process.

So that’s the end of part B and once again I find myself conflicted. Clearly the games have a place. They’re popular—people all around the world play them. Once again, though, I often find myself saying, “It looks like a lot of fun for many people but it’s just not for me.”

But then again I’m older than most of the typical players described in the book. Maybe this is just a good example of how wide the generational divide can be.

Or maybe it’s just that there’s no one thing that works for everyone and this time I’m one of the members of the group for whom this is not well-suited.

Part C looks at how scaling this up and getting real can benefit the whole world.

ELTM5A: Games-Why they’re Powerful

For the majority of the people in today’s world, reality does not offer enough pleasure, motivation and rewards. Increasingly, then, those same people are turning away from reality and are immersing themselves, more and more, in the alternate realities brought about through modern-day electronic gaming. If things do not change this will become ever more true; people will exist, increasingly, in virtual worlds.

Reality is broken.

What to do? Stay this course and let the chips fall where they may? Block it—actively discourage or even ban gaming?

There is a third way: we could examine the gaming industry and its associated culture, glean from it just what it is that is being offered and then attempt to layer these features in over normal reality, thus, hopefully creating a world more suited to our present wants and needs.

This is the central thesis from the opening of Jane McGonigal’s “Reality is Broken,” part of the research I’m doing in response to my colleague Eric Nippard’s challenge that I’d been entirely too dismissive of Gamification in one of my recent posts. While I’m not a gamer by nature I admit that the concept does offer much to us educators and will attempt, over the next few posts, to pass along some of what I’ve learned, and continue to learn.

McGonigal’s book is in three parts:

  1. How games give us what we want;
  2. How games can reinvent what we perceive as reality;
  3. How large scale games can change the world.

In the interest of readability, this post will just deal with part one.

I’m an educator; been one since I started university back in 1978 when I began a conjoint degree in science and education. I never had any doubts; it’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. Since that time I’ve not only been a practitioner; I’ve also been a student of my own craft: the merging of teaching & learning theory; instructional design/development and technology integration has been by ‘thing’ for as long as I can remember. It’s what I do; what I think about.

And I do not use jargon unnecessarily. It’s condescending and generally counter-productive to baffle the people I’m working with while effectively alienating me from them; certainly not a good thing if progress is the goal!

That said, I’m comfortable with it when appropriate. There are terms and concepts associated with the craft and using technical terms can be useful in professional publications as it brings clarity, precision and efficiency. Overall, industry-specific terms, appropriately-used, make for effective communication within the community of practice. When I read professionally I therefore expect to see use of specific terms.

But the ones I’m used to are not in McGonigal’s book to any great extent.

That’s to be expected. First, the book was intended to be accessible to a wide audience so the use of jargon would have been inappropriate. More importantly, though, it’s because she’s part of a culture that sees the world through a different set of filters than do most educators. Especially older ones like me.

That is why this book is so intriguing. McGonigal, like most gaming professionals, knows the science behind teaching and learning but she’s not resorting to traditional jargon. She’s using ordinary language and introducing new terms as needed. They’re not the ones traditionally used in Education…emphasis on ‘traditional.’ Her way of expressing ideas, the terms and the ideas themselves are all new to me. They’re not necessarily all her ideas, mind you, but those ideas did not exist, at least not in the form presented, a generation ago.

For an ‘old timer,’ then, McGonigal is very much the voice of a new generation. Reading her work gives insight not only into a world of new ideas but, perhaps more importantly, into the thoughts of a whole new generation; one that sees things differently from the way I’ve been taught; one with different aspirations and values.

She begins by explaining what is, and what is not, to be considered a game. Games have:

  • clear goals (e.g. put the puck in the net more frequently than the opponent);
  • specific rules that all players must abide by;
  • feedback systems (e.g. experience points, strength levels);
  • voluntary participation.

Her sphere of influence is very broad—life in general, in fact. The educator within could not leave it at that, though. Throughout the book I found myself constantly coming back to the question: what does this mean for education?

She then proceeds to elaborate on six ‘fixes’ that can be associated with games. Here they are, in brief.

  1. Unnecessary Obstacles can lead to better work. Consider soccer. It would be much easier to place the ball in the net if we were allowed to use our hands. We can’t. That, therefore, adds a challenge; makes it all more interesting. She used golf—I can’t afford golf. The presence of unnecessary obstacles often leads to better work owing to the emergence of two states of mind. Fiero is the term used to describe the elation one feels after achieving a major victory. Achievement—YESSSS! That’s fiero! Flow is the state of mind that arises from doing something to which we’ve become accustomed to the point of mastery. Both states are conducive to good learning and good living; both states arise from playing well designed games.
  2. Emotional Activation is particularly strong with games. External motivators (bullying, even money) are notoriously ineffective. We need people who desire to do good work, for reasons that matter to them. Games are good with that. It’s not necessarily about winning. Many, including me, don’t care about winning. People do care, though, about playing the game well and are more than willing to practice until they get to that point.
  3. Satisfying Work can come about from having clear goals and well-articulated next-steps. These are, of course, part and parcel of gaming. See the bulleted definition above! Just imagine—students having a clear-cut idea of what they needed to do. 🙂
  4. Better Hope of Success is something endemic to gaming. Fail at a level: do-over until you get that bit done; no need to start from scratch. Contrast that to what often (but by no means always) happens at school. Failure at a task (and, for the second and last time I stress that this is NOT the case for many schools and individual teachers) often results in being held back or at least stigmatized. What if education could be more organized along those lines? Gaming is one powerful way we can bring about the learner-centered teaching and learning model we all pursue.
  5. A Stronger Social Community can be nurtured through gaming. The first games console I bought for my kids was a Sega Dreamcast. It came with a dial-up modem. At the time I thought, “how novel—connecting with other players and playing together online.” Subsequent consoles, of course, took this to a whole new level. I’ve always been particularly amazed to see my own children playing online, headsets on, while chatting away comfortably with players in that game as well as with their friends who are playing different games. Alien to me, yes, but I’m not part of that scene. To them—it’s just life. The ties between them and their friends are strong.
  6. Being a Part of Something Epic is powerful. Why do we attend movies/plays/concerts/sporting events/religious celebrations en-masse? Because there’s nothing quite like being a part of something big. Games, especially ones played massively and online, do just that. Millions of people around the world pay a monthly subscription to play “World of Warcraft.” Together they collect experience points while cooperating in groups both small and large. What if we could make those quests more in-keeping with our educational goals?

At this point I admit I’m left in a position where my instincts are slightly out of kilter with my reason. I’m not a gamer; too much of a contrarian to derive pleasure from following rules and I’m not alone in that sentiment. I prefer not to follow the pack, choosing, instead, to jog along the periphery, sometimes joining in but mostly making my own path. If I were a student in a gamified classroom I suspect I’d be a disruptive influence and would instead try and convince the instructor to let me break away and do it my own way.

But we educators are not self-employed. Our education ministries and school districts choose not only what we teach and, but also, to a large extent, how we do it. Besides, as professionals, educators must not just go with what they like. They must instead go with what works best under the circumstances. Just because I do not much like gaming is no reason to dismiss it—there’s every reason to believe that, skillfully layered in, the classroom can become a much more enjoyable and effective place.

Part two explores how games are transforming the world right now.

Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal, published by Penguin.