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Games and change

Posted on: August 16, 2011

I think I have moved past selling video game-based learning as an alternative strategy to adopting it as a core strategy. But others remain unconvinced.

Some teachers may comment that video games are not relevant to their curriculum and they are right. Games are not for maintaining the status quo, i.e., racing through curricula the same old way. Games are for change.

I also think that many “curricular games”, particularly the drill-and-practice sort, are not actually based on key game-based learning principles like immersion, storytelling, and emotional manipulation.

What I find harder to argue about is whether games and game-based learning are relevant in an arena where tests and exams rule. Games are, after all, a succession of tests with immediate feedback after each test.

My responses so far are half-baked at best. I argue that knowledge, skills and attitudes picked up in games can transfer to other domains and to tests. For example, I constantly refer to game examples whether I am teaching my son math skills or life skills.

I also challenge anti-game teachers by asking them if they want to prepare students for the exams of school or the exam of life. I don’t see why you cannot do both.

For me, not tapping into the energy and excitement of games is akin to refusing to learn the language and culture of digital residents (be they young or old). If I am to teach them effectively, I must relate to them and communicate with them. When I do that, the tests and adult bickering fade far, far away into the background.

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3 Responses to "Games and change"

1. are you assuming that games are always relevant to the “test of life”?
which games build patience and concentration (long attention spans)
that are just as relevant today?

2. do teachers need to pander to students wishes and expectations
(“the customer (student) is always right” mentality) of how they want to
be taught, instead of inculcating the values of serving others in
society (student not as costumer, but as producer / service provider)?

students should be designing and producing games for others, not just play them!!!


Hi Ashley, I was reading this book on games development, and the author made a very interesting observation: education is essentially a specialized form of “games”:

A game has objectives, goals, milestones, challenges, feedback, rewards and penalties. It may even have a narrative as well, and the player can grow in terms of scoring points and/or collecting special items that will enhance the player. Sometimes there are cooperative and competitive challenges where the player works together with other players for a designated goal.

Now, just substitute “game” with “lesson”, and “player” with “student”. I think that should help us be more open to the idea of introducing games into education… i.e. we’re not changing the nature of education per se; we’re simply expanding its boundaries.

After all, our ancestors learnt basic survival skills by taking part in mock simulations of real-life challenges… didn’t we love to play war games or cooking games, etc, as children? These explorations helped us get a better grip on the nature of things, and discover our individual strengths.

Personally, I think the lack of emphasis in playing and exploring in current educational systems may actually hinder the learning and retaining capacities of our students… and they may never get a chance to discover their own unique perspectives for a given lesson… thus removing all possible sparks of serendipitous epiphanies that create great thinkers and learners, not muggers.

Just my ten-cents’ worth! ūüôā


Agreed on all counts!

My RSS feed and Twitter streams were a-buzz with GBL resources today. One of the shortest and best was It articulated things I did not in my own reflection.

Concepts and practices like process-over-content, problem-solving as a literacy and values education are things I firmly believe in. The production element mentioned at the end of the PBS article is also something I highlight to my classes.

When my participants experience GBL as a pedagogy, they begin to realize the shortcomings of frontal teaching. They then consider how to add this to their pedagogy tool belts. It is quite an experience to watch this shift in mindsets!


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