Is bad education just a boring game?

If I can just get a B on this assignment, I'll be a level 8 Psychologist.The title comes from a throw-away comment I made to the previous post.  For education to  fall under the umbrella of games, it needs the definition of games to be generalised as “solving statistically varied challenge situations”, to the point where nearly everything is a game; which would be nice.

In the book ‘The Theory of Fun‘, Raph Koster explains how computer games drip-feed difficulty to the player.  They introduce a basic mechanic, such as jumping, and then provide lots of things to jump over.  When jumping over things becomes easy, it’s time to introduce something else – like jumping off a wall to get higher.  Why this approach?  If you give the player everything at once then it’s too much to deal with; if you only get them repeating something that they’ve mastered then they’ll get bored.  Not too different from education.

In games, tools are also introduced with instructions, and challenges that start simple and then increase in difficulty – scaffolding traditionally provided by the teacher in education.  In this way the ramping difficulty in games is similar the concept of the ‘zone of proximal development‘.

So, games just try and use good practice from learning?  Maybe originally, but “gamification” acknowledges that games have perfected their own techniques to enhance learning and motivation.  Techniques such as progress bars and ‘badges‘.

Achievement unlocked.  10 journal papers readIn the TED talk “7 ways games reward the brain“, Tom Chatfield describes how players can be encouraged to perform boring, repetitive tasks, for fun, just by controlling the ‘schedule of reward’.  The concepts are quite behavioristic, but I’ve always found that although behaviorism is weak on the details, it’s still accurate on a broader scale.  Feel free to disagree in the comments.

So is bad education just a boring game?  Well, they can both suffer from doing the same things badly, and benefit from doing the same things right.

5 thoughts on “Is bad education just a boring game?

  1. There’s little doubt that gaming appeals to many people, and for those people the right game can provide addictive levels of motivation. Motivation in education would be a welcome benefit, I’m sure.

    However, the challenges for a university include the following:
    * do the academic staff have the motivation (and the time) to introduce game like concepts?
    * do the technical e-learning developers have the time (and approval) to implement it?
    * how do we address the fact that different people like different types of games?

    If we could address those challenges then benefits would, hopefully, follow.

    It gets my vote 🙂

  2. Matt I like the ideas and comparison to games. Many modules I run don’t use games but do build up successively so they have to start with key material the student needs to grasp before we lead on to more complex material. If they don’t have the tools to deal with more complex scenarios that is our fault for not providing the “Magic hammer”. One of the difficulties for learning new subjects is that students don’t always realise that we have to go through the introductory steps before we get to the challenges that are less boring. They want to play the game they don’t want to learn the rules. The reality is we know that if we introduce the challenges too early they aren’t challenges they are barriers to learning. One of the ways can be by introducing game like elements for some aspects of learning from quizzes to interactive tests and tools like Flashcards e.g. from or Here students can use materials we have created or better still create their own to support learning.
    Anyone who wants to know more about FlashCards I have a pre-publication paper I can send or go to the Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine

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