OLTD 508 examines mobile learning and gaming. One video that was recommended that we watch was Jim Gee‘s (2013) “Principles on Gaming”. In this video he states 13 learning principles that good games incorporate to ‘hook’ you in to learning the game (and any content it contains). A longer list of the principles, with a description of each, can be found in this article from Phi Kappa Phi Forum: GoodVideoGamesLearning. Three of the principles particularly resonated with me.
The first is ‘sandboxes’ or safe risk taking. I teach science. One challenge of science labs is students must perform experiments in a particular way, in a set amount of time. There is no ‘play’. Students cannot experiment with the chemicals and equipment in the lab as much as they or I would like as this can be potentially very dangerous. There is usually very strict time limits as lab space is in-demand. Labs are designed to be completed in a given time leaving no room for play. In a game, if students fail they can try again, as many times as are needed or desired. This permits experimentation and risk taking (such as putting sodium in water – something very carefully control in real life). Many games, like Minecraft, have a sandbox mode, a safe place to play. While a space may feel dangerous (zombie attack!) it is safe.
Another aspect of good game design, that education would do well to emulate, is the way information and words are used. In a game information tends to be given ‘just in time’ (when it is needed, it is given) or ‘on-demand’ (when it is asked for. In schools, information tends to be given in large chunks. I know that I am guilty of that. Too many words overwhelm and students tend to ignore most of them (which frustrates the educator as we are left saying ‘the information is on the page, have you read it yet?’). Poor game design tends to either not give enough information (SimCityEDU: pollution challenge is one), even on-demand, or can overwhelm with information. As an educator, I experienced the former this week in evaluating games, it helped me to appreciate how students must feel when it happens in class. I kept thinking the information MUST be somewhere, but I couldn’t find it – definitely left me feeling frustrated.
This leads me to another aspect of good game design which looks at complexity. In a game, there are usually levels. You are not expected to learn about everything all at once. Initially a game starts off quite simply. Complexity & difficulty is added as mastery and understanding is achieved. Problems and challenges must be well-ordered so gamers (or students) start off on the correct path. Earlier problem build to achieving success in more difficult problems. There are breadcrumbs through the maze.