Gamification: How Should We Play Our Lives?

May 12, 2011   //   by Poya   //   News, Reflection  //  Leave a Comment

When it comes to educational games there is a whole vocabulary which is emerging from the community. One of these words is “gamification” or the act of “gamifying” real life. While browsing through some posts on gameful.org (add “gamefulness” to that vocabulary list) I came across a great video which describes what this process might look like in an educational setting:

There is actually quite a bit of discourse in this area. This was the second in a series that started with this which introduces gamification as a broader concept. Here is another talk, and here is a blog on the topic.

This whole concept has got me thinking a lot about the pros and cons of such an approach. Specifically with regards to education I really do think that the current prevalent systems (which are actually very similar across the globe) can greatly lack in engaging students in subjects. No matter how good and well-intentioned the teacher, still they are working with systems that promote fixed grading, individual / isolated success rather than collaboration and team effort, memorizing information instead of understanding them intuitively and learning their application, etc. Many of us can recall friends (or even ourselves) going through high school without any ideas about what they were passionate about and what they would want to do after school, because they simply weren’t engaged in the subjects they were studying.

So does gamification fix the problem? Does it create new ones? At this point in time (and this is considering I have never seen this in action) I’m inclined to say that yes, done well and with the right objectives in mind it could be a huge improvement. In his book “The Art of Game Design: a book of lenses” Jesse Schell defines a game as being a problem solving activity, approached with a playful attitude. So if we approach learning with a playful attitude, one that indulges curiosity and naturally derives us to learn more, then we can do a much better job of engaging students in different subjects.

I guess the main question that I have is, how do we make students or people in general, become active agents of their own learning? Is gamification of subjects enough? The video suggests that games create a sense of agency and control which is true but maybe not enough in itself. What’s there to say that the students wouldn’t simply be engaged just so they can get extra game points or achievements and essentially compete with each other? Will they stop learning as soon as the element of reward and instant feedback is removed? Remember that “real life” doesn’t always provide those things. It seems the end goal is nurturing a sense of ownership in one’s own education.

Undoubtedly there is huge potential here, as long as we recognize we can always take it further. I’ll be looking out for examples of people trying these methods in the classroom (I know there are many out there). One can theorize forever but only trying it out will show if and how it works.

Maybe in another post I’ll write about gamification of other aspects of life.

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