Video Games – Can they make learning fun?

So can video games make learning fun?

Tall response: NO!

Grande response: No, because…

  • Edutainment games are clunky
  • Edutainment games are not multi-million dollar franchise games
  • Our students are very diverse with some people play first person shooters, other play RPGs while some play puzzle games, basic games or no games at all
  • You cannot differentiate in one model without spending an enormous amount of resources in creating a one-size fits all solution
  • One game can only have so many lessons
  • In one year, students have around 6 subjects…do they play 6 games?
  • In a MS/HS setting you have 7 years and about 5 major subjects. That would require 35 variants or 35 different games!

Venti response:

Edutainment – That just seems like an oxymoron…a fun educational game!

When asked by me, “How would you feel if your FPS game required you to answer questions to pick up ammo or guns or to engage an enemy?

Bob (name changed), an actual student of mine and typical gamer, responded without hesitation “I would quit!”

Why? He plays the game for the action and to “get away

Ok, that’s not fully fair as there are several companies out there creating engaging games that kids play in the classroom to learn all sorts of skills. It works especially well with the younger kids. But as they get older, it gets harder and we discover a disconnect.

I think the question, Can you make learning as fun as video games?, is being raised in an effort to engage the XBox generation. Why can a kid spend 7 hours straight on a game yet struggle with 15 minutes of Chemistry? Because Chemistry is not being presented in a 3-D virtual world with high stakes gaming mechanics at play.

Ntiedo Etuk, founder and CEO of Tabula Digita is doing just that. He is attempting to bridge that gap.

I think there is a fundamental problem here. Test subjects are brought together in a fun, energetic environment to act as a focus group where they all play the same game. The kids are excited to be part of this event. No one else is playing Halo3 or ModernWarfare 3 so they don’t feel shafted.

They now approach the game like any other game that they play when not in front of their game console. These kids will waste time playing silly flash games – but would they go out and pay $70 for it? Nope!

So these kids are primed to give positive feedback. They have just spent time playing games with other kids in a festive environment and their initial responses will be “sure, it was kind of fun”.

“Do you think you would enjoy doing Chemistry more if you could play this game instead of reading a book?”

“Yeah sure!” says Timmy. But he has been primed.

But these responses are skewed. The question asked should be more along the lines of: How would you rate this game compared to your favorite console game?

The other question is: Did you feel the same tension, excitement and exhilaration when playing your favorite game?

The answer will probably lean heavily in favor of the popular games.

The problem is that the popular games are skill based games that have a huge hand-eye coordination component and the enjoyment is derived from honing those skills. In other games like World of Warcraft, you have a different component. You have a roll playing game (RPG) mechanic combined with a social one. There is no real skill acquisition here other than patience and social skills.

The kids playing these games would probably never get involved in a game like Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, a game that uses clues, geography and interesting characters to help you track down the villains. This sleuth game was popular in the late 80’s and early 90’s and taught me a little about geography. I loved the game! But that was back in the 8-bit days and the game was colorful and had cool graphics since they only had to be images and not 3D renderings.

I believe the biggest problem is the content delivery systems that we use. It is an enormous challenge to create engaging and multifaceted strategies in a classroom. Some teachers do brilliantly at this and others struggle. The other issue is, are kids going to be motivated to gain subject level knowledge to succeed in the edutainment game in front of them? Is a game going to appeal to our diverse student body? My gut feeling is that there is major disconnect.

My recipe for success:
1) Get the top teachers who have created engaging, differentiated and discovery-based lessons
2) Get LOADS of funding
3) Get Blizzard or another major game company on board
4) Create a commercial-level game with cut-scenes and clips using the fodder from the superstar teachers to add hints and clues. Create challenges and levels where this knowledge will have to be utilized. Provide resources in game that are deeply embedded into the theme of the game (a la Minecraft or Fallout). Create different game-plays for different tastes
5) Promote game
6) Distribute to schools and “gift” the students

Will this succeed? Possibly? How much Chemistry can you cram into a game? Can you add multiple subjects like Physics and Chemistry and mathematics? Can you incorporate knowledge levels for various grades? Which curriculum are you going to use?

The answer here is NOT a kick ass video game that would engage the gamer generation. The answer lies in creating colorful lighthearted games that end up being an alternative to the worksheet. Think app games or flash games and not huge 3D games. Will students play these simpler games and get super stoked? No! Will it make dealing with the content a little more fun and provide a change in pace? Sure. And that spells success.

Now who wants a coffee??

3 thoughts on “Video Games – Can they make learning fun?”

  1. I agree with your arguments, but at the same time it feels like you are too conservative in your means. If educational video games get the correct support, they might eventually develop into a more sophisticated and therefore effective system.

    1. Unordinary Cusotmer, I agree with Omar and his recipe of success is pretty good. Ntiedo Etuk says in the video that students will fail time and time again and that’s what people who have made educational video games have done time and time again. The problem is, that I don’t know too many companies who have gotten close to it and failing at that level means millions of dollars down the drain. A company like Blizzard has money to take a chance at the long road to try and get it right.

      Also, when talking about using extrinsic motivation to create and foster intrinsic motivation, it doesn’t work too well. There is plenty of research to suppor that as well-just Google it. So what happens when the game is gone? Will students still be motivated to learn on their own? Definitely food for thought.

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