A thought on “gamification” of education

Gamification of education Vs Educational Video Games

Having done some psychology in my undergrad, researching predominantly psychological learning theories in a more analytic light has made me think about my role as a game designer and the term “gamification” in gerneral.

For the moment, from my persepctive at least, there is a bold difference between “gamifying” education and creating educational video games.

Firstly the term “gamification” can be compared to behaviourism. Conditioning the learner and manipulating their behaviour through positive or negative reinforcement or punishment (for now this may be relative). Now, this is something that, while it still plays upon our levels of satisfaction we seek from gaming experiences, it is something I do NOT want to be the focus of my research. Behaviourism is a psychological paradigm which is constantly being called into question because of its fundamental oversight – it does not consider cognition. Predominantly you have classical conditioning where conditioning occurs before a desired behaviour and then you have operant conditioning where conditioning occurs after a desired behaviour. Whilst both manipulate behaviour to an extent, the learner only understands what to or not to do and in turn how they will react to environmental stimuli (potentially for personal gain). I believe that this is something when designing educational video games, designers should perhaps think about in great detail before utilising it. You do not want to be rewarding behaviour to maintain motivation and interest if the only motivation is to obtain positive reinforcement and to avoid negative consequences, which essentially what gamification encourages.

Saying that is not from a biased perspective, as for the most part I am an achievement junky, and if there is an achievement for a near impossible action I will try, if not even play a game multiple times to obtain it.(i.e. Assassin’s Creed (I) Conversationalist achievement) The satisfaction I gain from that simple bleep and icon appearing on screen, whether it is on Live, PSN or Steam is satisfying but what have I learnt? How has that affected my thinking, my understanding of the game? One thing I know is that I will be able to navigate the environment with my eyes closed having played the levels many times but more often than not it hasn’t taught me anything other then provided evidence to support my love through hours spent playing the games in question. This is where the focus in terms of “gamifying” education needs to change for education games and the term “gamification” means more “motivation through interaction understanding”; so game principles have been applied but an understanding has occurred as a result not just a momentary satisfaction and digital shiny artifact within my trophy collection. Whilst in theory it seems like a practical idea, in practice it could be a whole other story.

To get people understanding the nature of their actions you need to extend beyond obtaining a desired result, beyond a superficial “reward”. I am hoping that the more I experiment with game design, mechanics and investigate how we learn I can devise a framework to adhere to for my honours project.

Operant conditioning anyone?

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