I have been “dropped” in a strange world. No idea where I am. With no clear goal or purpose.
I appear to be in a cell of some kind. A man approaches me from the other side of the bars. He speaks to me. In a strange language. It seems important. But everything is lost in translation.
Another person appears. He bends down, pulls a lever, and my cage slowly opens. I am free. My liberator — or was he my captor? — has already run away.
I start to explore my immediate surroundings. There are some strange looking devices. I pull levers and press buttons, but nothing I do seems to have any effect.
Where am I? Who am I? What should I do next? So many questions. So much uncertainty.
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I look around for something useful or a clue.
But I don’t feel lost. I feel motivated. Invigorated. Mesmerized by the eerie beauty of the fantastic landscape and the unknown possibilities of the adventure to come.
This experience was from over twenty years ago. I was playing the video game Riven — the sequel to Myst.
Recently, “open-world” video games are everywhere. Breath of the Wild. Red Dead Redemption (1 or 2). Skyrim. They offer a heady mix of freedom and exploration in a vast, virtual environments.
But, for someone of my age, the Myst games remain classics. Google them, if they are unfamiliar. You can even “watch” a full play-through on YouTube.
My adventure only lasted a week or so. I played as much as I could, completely captured and intrigued by the game. It was a memorable experience.
And what is really amazing is how many details I still recall from those strange worlds. The clever puzzles. The unfolding story. The beautiful vistas. And the stirring music.
But what have my gaming experiences from two decades ago got to do with teaching and learning today, and getting prepared for the uncertain things to come?
Let me explain.
Digital Worlds & the Mind of a Gamer
I have been thinking a lot about my Myst and Riven memories over the last week.
I was in Malaysia to speak about “doing business in a digital age.” The impact of artificial intelligence on companies. I love giving presentations and helping people prepare for the future.
With the holiday season quickly approaching, I was reflecting on 2019, and it occurred to me that today’s world resembles my gaming experience back then.
To survive and flourish in a video game or in a world of exponential technological change, you need to be inquisitive, creative, and bold. You must retain an open mind and constantly experiment.
2019 was a great year. I have given many talks, visited fantastic places and met many interesting people. It has been a true “Riven-like” experience.
And yet, my key takeaway from 2019? It is people with an open mind — the mind of a gamer — that get it. They are the best prepared for the future. They have the skill set necessary to survive and flourish in a digital age.
For a start, open-minded people don’t expect me to tell them what the world will look like in 2030. They are not looking for answers. They understand that the old world is crumbling and that a new reality awaits. But they don’t get frustrated or disappointed when the contours of this new reality aren’t clear. They are energized by figuring things out for themselves. They understand that the future is open and want to work together to build a new world.
I don’t say that the world is a game or that we should approach the world’s most pressing challenges as if we were playing a game. No. That would be irresponsible. Building the world of 2030 is extremely serious.
But I do believe that if you want to help make that world a better place, a gaming mindset is a huge advantage.
Games, Gamification & Digital Learning
When I started to think about how I will change things in 2020, my conclusion was that we need to do more to foster such a mindset.
I realize that I need to be much more innovative in my presentations and in my teaching. I really thought — fueled by comments I received from students and colleagues — that I was already thinking out of the box with apprentice-style assignments and hackathon-type challenges, but I need to go much further in 2020.
I will spend my holiday season figuring out how I can better integrate a gaming component into my teaching.
The Gaming Experience
It is amazing how much I can still remember from “playing a game” twenty years ago. It was an intense experience. No class from my childhood or student years had the same impact on me. The only other example of such a formative experience was my military training.
I want my classes to have the same positive impact. Starting with why — we need the next generation to be creative.
I want my students to experiment. I want my students to explore. I want my students to deal with the immense uncertainties. I want my students to become engineers, architects, designers, craftsman. I want my students to be critical thinkers and — sometimes — even troublemakers.
How I am going to do this isn’t entirely clear to me yet. But, in general terms, I need to gamify the teaching and learning experience.
By gamification, I mean the introduction of typical elements from games (e.g., narrative and storytelling, “classes” and roleplaying, “points” and “levels,” competition and problem-solving, exploration and adventure) to other fields of human activity.
I must learn from the most successful games out there. Twenty years ago, I could be considered a gamer. But many things have changed in the meantime. Like everything else, games have become much smarter and more sophisticated these days. I must go back to the drawing board. I must immerse myself in the new world of gaming. I must understand what makes games successful. This is a crucial exercise if I want to include much more of the contemporary “gaming ingredients” in my courses, my lectures, and my presentations.
Because in the same way that digital technologies from today are incomparable with those of twenty years ago, so are the games.
I am convinced. We need many more people with a gaming mindset to ensure we can see future opportunities and can deal with the many challenges we will have over the next ten years.
Like with the gaming worlds of Myst and Riven, we must venture into the unknown and start creating our world for 2030 right now.