Education Should Be GAMIFIED — Introduction to AGES Part IV
Saving the world with an Alternative Global Education System
By MARTIN REZNY
What would you rather do — spend a day at school, or spend a day playing games? Chances are, you’d rather play games. Maybe you‘re a bit ashamed about that, maybe you feel that you should want to study at school more, and want to play games less. Well, don’t be. This is shameful for schools.
There’s no cosmic law saying that education must be boring, or that you can’t learn by playing games. Many game developers work very hard on making sure their games aren’t boring, it doesn’t just happen. If teachers and administrators worked hard on that as well, school would be fun.
It’s not even a remotely new idea. Czech thinker and education reformer John Amos Comenius wrote Schola Ludus, or School As Play, in 1630. He was focused mostly on using theatrical plays to enhance instruction, but any other kind of play can be used to enhance education for the same reasons.
Modern research overhwelmingly suggests that the more engaging you make learning, the more effective it’s going to be. Put simply, interactive methods (like games or discussion) beat passive methods (like reading or instruction). If you don’t believe me, feel free to challenge me to write a review of available research, or see for yourself how many studies with a different conclusion you can find. Let me know if you find any.
Some games are of course more educational than others, on a scale from something like individual athletic sports to debating competitions, which is basically a gamification of discussion. But that only means that schools should pick the best games, instead of waging a holy war against fun.
Let me give you some extremely specific examples from my main area of expertise, language. The moment when I realized that playing games is learning is when I became aware of the fact that I know English. Without ever taking any English classes at school. I learned it from games.
Over the course of about five years of playing games like StarCraft, Diablo, Half-Life, or Heroes of Might and Magic, I have somehow absorbed a vocabulary, figured out what the words mean from context, figured out all of the basic rules of grammar, and learned good pronunciation.
I have also watched many shows and movies with subtitles over the same time period, but there’s something really effective at replaying a storyline of a game over and over and over again, to the point of inadvertently memorizing all of it. Inadvertently is the word — I didn’t mean to do this.
Meanwhile, I was learning German at school, and guess what, I’m not writing an article in German now, am I. The effect of learning a language at school wasn’t zero, I do still remember some vocabulary and grammar, but it was so much less fun, and so much less effective, and for no good reason.
Once I became aware of how games help me learn English, I leaned heavily into it, including throwing myself into international debating competitions in English. As a result, I achieved in weeks advancements that would take years at school, and then proceeded to learn English at a level much higher than what’s expected of English language teachers in my country.
Now, language isn’t even the first thing that people would think of as something you can learn through computer games, that would be math. Try playing strategy games competitively for years without learning anything about economy. Try making games without learning anything about equations or formal logic. Basically, games are math that is fun.
Beyond language and math, or the most fundamental human capacities, games are works of art, or at least involve work of many artists, so there’s a lot to learn there. And all of that is still independent of the actual content of the games. Games can tell any kind of story or convey any information.
Play a well-written, historically accurate game about history, and guess what, you’ll learn a lot about history and have fun doing it. Play a game that’s about solving actual scientific puzzles, and not only will you learn about science and have fun doing it, you can even advance science.
If schools were actually interested in making learning effective, their administrations would spare no expense at adapting games and game-like mechanics for educational purposes. They would also realize that making education boring is their failure, not a character flaw of students.
The fourth of four core principles of what we call Alternative Global Education System (AGES) is gamification. What follows are the main ways in which games enhance education. If you’re interested in perusing the whole thing, see the state-of-the-art version of the AGES charter.
Gamified education system must be…
Passivity is one of the main attributes of learning through instruction or reading, or the staples of the standard education model. This is somehow still the case despite the longstanding consensus of researchers in the field that the key to make education more effective is making it more engaging.
The most engaging form of learning are games, thanks to their inherent interactivity, which is why gamification should be applied to its fullest educational potential on our platform. What that means is that while all of the passive means of learning (lectures, videos, textbooks, etc.) will still be present as learning materials, the way in which students will be supposed to engage with them needs to be transformed.
The main source of inspiration should be the most successful games that structurally most closely resemble global instructional systems — MMORPGs, or massive multiplayer online role-playing games. These types of systems are so engaging even when their content is effectively pointless (limited to so-called grinding), that millions of both children and adults are willing to spend money on them. Making a similar system with meaningful content that would level up the user in the real world and enable them to make a living is likely to make it more engaging, not less.
What this type of gamification would mean on the level of principle is that learning paths would be presented as branches of a character skill tree, meaning that students would be trying to become a class with the help of their party, navigating together a series of challenges appropriate to their level, as opposed to sitting through classes with no agency.
Beyond the overarching structural gamification of the whole education system, students should also be encouraged to learn through directly participating in games, including computer games, debating, scientific, or artistic competitions, physical and intellectual sports, and more.
This could mean playing games, hosting games, adjudicating games, making games, inventing games, the list of potentially educational game-related activities is endless.
Students likely won’t need to be convinced to get involved in these types of activities, so the real challenge for us is to find the best ways of maximizing the educational potential of this involvement. We should strive to identify which games and related activities are more directly educational than others and put emphasis on them as part of our learning paths proportionally to their educational potential.
It should be made clear to students which skills they can learn how through which games, as well as how to identify and avoid problematic elements of games. This means we will develop our own game rating system that transcends one particular genre of games, meaning that one will be able to compare within it for example chess to soccer to League of Legends in terms of associated learning benefits as well as any risks or downsides.
For any games with both high educational value and a competitive aspect, there should be additional incentives or rewards in the form of achievement badges, prizes, scholarships, or special privileges for those students who prove their dedication or excellence by beating high scores or winning competitions.
This has to be done thoughtfully, however, as collaboration should still be more pronounced than competition within our education system overall. In a word, an optimal educational environment to aim for is therefore one that is coopetitive, or one of friendly rivalry and of competing at helping others.
This means that whenever applicable, there should be competitions between teams and collective rewards, as well as a lot of emphasis put on cooperative, win-win games.
This isn’t a trivial task, it will require careful balancing of an evolving situation, but ultimately, what should be avoided is a cult of arrogant elitism; winner worship; humiliation of losers; warring tribes mentality; or giving prizes to everyone regardless of achievement. In short, rewards need to reflect actual achievement, but winning them shouldn’t be presented as valuable in and of itself.
Given that most game developers aren’t trying to teach real-world information or skills through their games, and given that many successful games don’t contain any story, it is likely that the aesthetic (beautiful, artful) components of games account for a large part of their appeal.
Unfortunately, within the standard education model, aesthetics are generally considered to be unnecessary, which typically results in a wholly unappealing presentation of information at school, as well as in it not being properly taught.
Within the context of computer games or online education, this mainly concerns graphic design, music and sound design, and stylistic aspects of writing or voice acting. Since better aesthetics in games (or higher production values) demonstrably result in attracting more players and higher player enjoyment and retention, aesthetics are in fact not unnecessary, they’re functional. As the goal of our project is the maximization of educational potential, the best possible use of aesthetics must be pursued.
The user interface of the platform needs to be as visually appealing and easy to navigate as possible; animation, soundtrack, or dubbing should be used to enhance audiovisual learning materials; teachers should be rewarded not just for their level of expertise, but also for the quality of their performance; and finally, no less emphasis should be put on the development of artistic skills than that of any other type of skills.