Friday, July 28, 2006

Topic for Discussion: Learning vs. Gaming

At the wonderful design/art/business blog Lost Garden, there's an interesting post about how learning in the context of games is fun. It alludes to the earlier work by Raph Koster.

The comments, however, have moved to a discussion on why school is largely considered Not Fun, if learning is supposedly the Ultimate Source Of Fun.

I still can't help but feel that something is wrong with the theory. If learning is fun, then classes(especially college with its more freeform attitude towards learning) should be fun in spite of the educational system. Teachers shouldn't have to work hard to engage their classes, they should have to go to great lengths not to engage them. But clearly that's not the case, which implies that only certain types of learning are fun.

Which types? Does learning have different "types" in the same way that there are different kinds of fun? Are certain types of learning more fun than others?


Duncan said...

There are different classes of students. I was one of the easy to teach, high grades sorts. Quite often teachers would have to work to engage me because the prescribed curriculum too easy for me. As I progressed up the ladder to the post-secondary level this was required less and less. I've come to take great pleasure in learning. Even more so since graduation as I have to drive my own learning and search out my own topics, questions, and answers.

Less structure tends towards a more enjoyable experience. Maybe because there is a greater chance to scale the difficulty to something that you are comfortable with. People who hate school tend to do so because they find it unreasonably hard or frustrating. People who hate certain games tend towards the same emotions.

Adam Yulish said...

Learning is a multifaceted skill. To greatly oversimplify things, I think children in the United States don't often learn how to learn. It's easier and more simple to acquire (and to teach) a template rather than a skill. And a template is definitely easier to measure and evaluate rather than a skill.

School is not fun at most levels because our system is template-based, not learning-based. Kids get taught arithmetic and how to F.O.I.L. polynomial equations in the 7th grade. They acquire the template. But why should they "learn" the math? Why should they gain anything more than becoming a human version of a scientific calculator? It's not going to help them; there's no relevant context, other than grades. Memorizing spelling words in a language that flouts inconsistencies is bland at best. If a teacher can correct a mispelling, then that teacher obviously knew which word the writer meant, right? What's the problem?

Heck, even video games that rely on templates have no replay value. The player has been there, done that. Undestand how to beat the boss of the 3rd level? The next time around, it's slightly more entertaining than your 30th homework math problem.

Other games provide an artificial context. Not artificial in the sense of false, but in the sense of a limited construction. For the players, the artificial context is very real, and gives play a purpose. While logic theory and geometry are boring (few people care about boolean operators and acute angles), Rocky's Boots and The Factory (scroll down to the Factory review section) opened the door for a lot of computer-based learning in the 1980s because they made the theory matter. Only later did some of the children discover how Rocky's Boots helped them to understand better ways to do library searches on the computer, or how the factory helped their ability to visualize a project they wanted to complete and work backward to figure out how to get there.

I think games offer an incredible opportunity for fun learning. Moreover, highly successful educational games show that not only will people succeed in the game, but that people can find ways to let that success spill over into other skills in their lives.

There are always students who find fun ways to learn things, the same way there are players who decide to make a "speed run" and see how fast they can complete a game from start to finish, when the game was never designed as a time trial. For everyone else, most classes aren't fun because most classes don't involve learning.