The Rules of the Game

cc licensed flickr photo shared by unloveablesteve

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

Changing the Game:
What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom?

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.”

The evidence:

cc licensed flickr photo shared by adventuresinlibraryscho ol

cc licensed flickr photo shared by circulating


9 responses to “The Rules of the Game

  1. I’d like to respond to your question “do computer games allow for flexibility and spontaneity?” My answer is yes, they do! Depending on the game… 🙂

    We used to play things like the original Super Mario Bros. which required us to move in straight lines and keep going forward without much choice. We now have “non-linear” or “open ended” games in which players can go practically anywhere they want, problem solve their own solutions to problems, and often decide which quests to complete and when. One of the reasons games like World of Warcraft are so successful is due to this kind of flexibility.

    • Thanks for confirming what I suspected. (My assumption was that the foundations of a high quality game are similar regardless of how it’s presented and played.)

  2. Pingback: Digital games – classroom benefit or waste of valuable time « Greg's Blog

  3. A very informative, well reasoned post. I remember writing to Parker Brothers when I was 10 or 11 requesting a ruling on an interpretation of the “Rules.” and how delighted I was when I got a letter back confirming my interpretation rather than my sister’s. Not sure how that fits with what you have written, but your post reminded me of my long ago past.

    Your quotation from Professor Squires was quite important. This is the issue: ” ‘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.’ ”

    • John,
      Loved the fact you actually wrote Parker Brothers (and, of course, were vindicated!). What I was wondering about is how rules are negotiated in a computer/video gaming platform since this negotiation seems to be a key part of playing games.

  4. Michelle Clarke

    This was a great post Anne-Marie. I loved how you condensed the attributes of well constructed games here. This is helpful indeed.

    I agree as well that the quote you used by Professor Squire was profound and apt. Too often we see the tendency of school divisions to blanket ban things without considering the potential of the tools. Because games and the Internet are in fact tools, not necessarily inherently evil or bad. It depends on the culture climate and the intentions of the user. I believe its up to us as instructors and educators to foster the appropriate climates and to model the usages we want to see our learners exhibit.

    Ghandi had an apt quote as well “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

    • Michelle,

      I figured I’d start with what I know (meaning familiar games everybody knows) – then see what they have in common, and what this might mean for computer/video games.

      I also like how you’ve brought up the idea that tools are not inherently good or evil. The foods teacher who uses a large knife to cut a watermelon does not have to defend the use of that tool – even though Hollywood is happy to make it a weapon in many horror flicks! You made me think that it’s interesting to consider which tools are deemed acceptable and which are not (and why)…

  5. Education or control are important distinctions for teachers to realize. Often times teachers/people are unaware of ones culture and the roots of their actions. Canadian curriculum has been based on one culture. So what do teachers do when they realize that their methods and content are geared for one dominant culture and that this culture is changing at lighting speed. Oh, and that they are not meeting the needs of their diverse students. If games assist students in learning how to think, I believe that this is much more important than the content itself. Our technological society is changing so rapidly that the specific use of a tool seems less important than being able to process data into meaningful information. Happy blogging, Bettina Welsh

  6. Man, those photos you posted at the end of this post are SO negative!!! I saw them during a presentation by Dr Michael Stephens ( on ‘The Hyperlinked Library’. Talk about not making patrons feel welcome…..after seeing slide after slide on the big screen with ‘no, no, no, no’ it really hit home to me how important positive signage is. Offtopic of your post on gaming, sorry!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s