In the midst of a pandemic, how could this possibly be a time for games?! Since college when I read a book called “Homo Ludens” (Huizinga, 1954 – linked to free copy from Internet Archives) I have been profoundly aware that games are more than entertaining distractions. Indeed, games are critical parts of our growth and maturity and more natural than many of the activities we have institutionally put in place. Let’s look at how games that can help you and/or your orgranization at all times but especially in a crisis.
I Have Students/Workers Online But Are They Really Engaged? How Can I Increase Engagement?
Games, where score is kept and a goal defines “winning” and simulations which are more open ended, are seen as superfluous (apologies for the long word there: read “fun, icing-on-the-cake, rewards, unnecessary”). They appear to be what we do to pass the time but are so magnetic that many times we watch each other play as much as we watch ourselves! Ironically, we also learn from the games we play. Clearly we learn less from a casual game of Bridge than from an intense, competitive tournament chess match. However, the classic parts of the learening cycle are built into most games and simulations. Consider that exposition of information, activities at appropriate levels, and feedback are typical game components. Also we are constantly being assessed by ourselves and others as we grow and compete. What makes games and simulations different is the incredibly deep engagement that is an integral part of the experience! Even casual games get wrapped up in playing trivial games on their mobile device! Why does this happen?
Greater Feedback and Efficiency
One factor we underestimate in learning environments is how grading and scoring affect student expectations: they “fail” until they reach a certain level of competence and then they “pass”. There is no level at which we pronounce a student “awesomesauce” – their reward is never having to see that content and perform those exercises again! That’s motviating right!? In contrast, games allow students to succeed and fail in environments where the consequnces and lables are less severe. How many more times would you try something if you could simply work at it until it is mastered? What if you could get a friend online to help you – would that make it better as well? Indeed, game environments are designed to be more appealing than most educational environments (textbooks among them). Also, if a consumable material is used up in real life it must be replaced at a cost thus reducing the practice opportunities but in a game, practice may recur as much as the player/student needs or wants. I collaborated with a wonderful company, Second Avenue Learning in Rochester, NY, years ago to build cutting edge virtual labs to be used by students as supplements and complements to their “hands-on” labs. Virtual labs were safer for hazardous labs and more cost effective for students who wanted to achieve mastery: the “awesomesauce” level. Yes, these were simulations, not games, but the level of engagement was significantly higher. This resulted in students spending a greater amount of time in the experience and enjoying greater satisfaction. While “engagement” is a fuzzy metric, time in experience, achievement, and satisfaction serves as adequate proxies.
Fortnite for Your Students?
Am I proposing we all have our students hop into Fortnight and spend hours on the couch shooting away using their favorite weapon? Of course I am not! But if you are wondering how to engage students that you are not seeing face-to-face then it is time to be creative and to innovate. Minecraft is a simulation environment that has been a compliment to every curricular area for over a decade. Looking forward, VR and AR experiences are just around the corner that provide amazing simulations of content like that for an OSHA 10 course! I am proposing that it is time to consider or double-down on games and simulations as part of your learning strategies, especially because they leverage online delivery and improve engagement. Who knows – YOU might have more fun as a teacher or administrator or parent schooling at home too!!!!
I would LOVE to hear about your successes with games and simulations. Also, if you have questions so does someone else – ask in the comments below. I am a gamer and educational consultant and may be able to provide some help. As usual I am leaving you with a video. This user-created video shows the power of a simulated environment as well as the type of product that can be created by an individual or group. Game on!