A traditional favourite game of mine was always “Mousetrap”. I’m fairly certain I never actually played it according to the instructions, but thoroughly enjoyed building it again and again – even improvising with homemade pieces when original pieces went missing. This week I’ve been challenged to think about games – specifically, electronic games (computer and video). I rarely play these types of games, but after experiencing an excellent presentation from Sylvia Martinez I realized I needed to give some serious thought to the importance of gaming.
So what makes a good game and do these attributes extend to electronic games – whether officially deemed educational or not?
Some attributes of good games:
– they are fresh and feel original, but can be played again and again.
– they involve learning and mastering a range of skills.
– they are able to adapt and include new levels or challenges.
– they are complex enough to be challenging.
– they are built considering uniformity and consistency.
– at the same time they allow for some interpretation of the rules (anyone that’s ever played Monopoly and argued about the “money in the middle” and “Free Parking” knows what I mean). Sometimes the ability to change the rules is part of the fun and an important part of the experiential learning.
– they might contain an element of surprise.
– they allow for tension to build.
When I considered my list, I realized it was universal (no matter what the age of the player, the type of game – board game or electronic, or the use – for education or strictly for fun) the attributes still seemed to apply. One question that emerged for me is “do computer games allow for flexibility and spontaneity”? I’m hoping the answer is, yes – assuming it’s a high quality game, but appreciate any feedback on this question (since I’m not really a gamer).
Another thing I thought about was when I created video production for my school district back in the early 1990s, my main motivation was to put the tools in the hands of my students. (Yes, I am a constructivist!) I figured that one of the best way for students to become media literate was to construct media themselves. They would discover the power of shot choices, post-production manipulation and so on. And that’s exactly what happened. As such, my interest was piqued when Sylvia Martinez brought up sites such as Scratch where students can build their own games. So much so that I intend to explore this option with the students in my media arts courses. My film students have been able to become quality creators and critical consumers of media, and this seems like a natural extension using today’s tools.
The last thing I thought about came from an article written by University of Wisconsin professor Kurt Squire entitled
I found the following quote from the article powerful stuff (and I couldn’t say it any better so have left it in Professor Squire’s own words.)
“Indeed, just as no one game appeals to all students, neither does any one curriculum, and games challenge us to ask to whom traditional curricula appeals and whom it leaves behind. Our traditional secondary curriculum is largely an
experience of mastering a pre-defined set of objectives, mostly through listening or participating in structured activities with well-defined, pre-determined outcomes. In post-secondary schools, the activities are more open-ended, but mostly mediated through secondary accounts of phenomena through the use of textbooks and lectures. College students mostly listen to lectures, read texts, and if they are lucky, discuss them with peers or an instructor. Those who prefer to develop understandings through building, tinkering, or more direct experience are left behind.Educators hoping that digital games will be a “silver bullet” because they are exciting and motivating will be disappointed. The real challenge is not so much in bringing games—or any technology—into our schools but rather changing the cultures of our schools to be organized around learning instead of the current form of social control.”