by Shafaque Riaz
Expert Educator Columnist, UAE
I am a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert for 2014 and 2015 from Dubai. My interest in gaming mainly started from seeing my sons’ craze about games. My kids never seem to get enough of their video games. I tried hard to separate them from their game consoles until the day my seven years old expressed his understanding of different construction building materials and their suitability in changing environmental factors. He learnt these facts when he was playing Minecraft to design houses and farms. This learning for him happened unconsciously under the veneer of fantasy of game play. That was the turning point for me; I started following the work of Paul Gee, Constance Steinkuehler and Jane McGonigal. Now I am convinced.
As Mark Sparvell said at the 2014 Barcelona Microsoft Global Forum, “Today’s learner has intertwined strands of gamer DNA and learner DNA…anyone who thinks they can be separated is wasting valuable g-learning time.”
The focus of my discussion here is the elements of games that keep their players engaged and how learning can happen within games and through interaction with games.
Games are puzzles; they are about cognition and learning to analyze pattern. Basically all games are edutainment. Some games teach spatial relationships, some teach you to explore, some teach you how to aim precisely. Players seeking to advance in a game will always try to optimize what they are doing. If they are clever and see an optimal path—an Alexandrine solution to a Gordian problem—they’ll do that instead of the “intended gameplay.” Games are competitive, because they lead to an endless supply of similar yet subtly varied puzzles. Games are fun and fun is the process of discovering areas in possibility space. The games easily relate to children’s popular culture and thus make the learning relevant to them by creating fantasy. Inclusion of fantasy in games has both cognitive and emotional advantages in designing instructional environments.
Motivation inspires target-oriented behavior, which is an essential element to initiate and sustain the learning process. The learning environment should provide a balanced and adequate level of motivational stimuli through challenge and curiosity. Too little and too much learner’s control could lower learners’ intrinsic motivation and games have inbuilt into them elements that required balanced control while providing maximum motivation.
Game design and development process itself is a learning process as highlighted by our columnist and MIEE 2014 Doug Bergman in his post on this blog. In my next blog I will talk about why it is important to have inclusive game design and playful content learning embedded into gameplay.