Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Gilbert: Vindicating Video Games

“Playing games is a waste of time.” We have heard, been told and believed this line ever since the Ancient Greeks tossed around sheep knucklebones in a game called astragaloi over 3,000 years ago. From their humble origins, games have maintained their connotation of uselessness as they developed from simple board games to Pong in an arcade to Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64 and to Angry Birds on mobile phones. At best, games are considered entertaining — at worst, as taking time from real productivity.

Despite their bad reputation, games have only skyrocketed in popularity in recent times, with video games in particular representing a huge generational investment in time, energy and a mere $50 billion in purchases. People today also spend over three billion hours a week playing online games such as Facebook-based Farmville and World of Warcraft. College students, unsurprisingly, represent a substantial portion of these video and online game afficionados.

After several millennia, one would expect the seemingly useless gaming trend to have died off for simple evolutionary reasons — the most rational people do not invest energy into worthless activities. In addressing this issue, a paradigm shift is necessary: a game should not be considered useless play, but structured activity. The level of engagement inherent in so many modern games should be analyzed, not blindly criticized. In fact, the massive human effort pouring into virtual worlds reveals the extraordinary characteristics of the human mind. Strategies that game designers use to captivate their audiences can translate from virtuality to reality in their applicability to business, government and education. Tom Chatfield, a game journalist, author and theorist as well as long-time gamer, recently described seven of these strategies in a presentation at a Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference. I’m going to examine a few of them as foundations for possible education models.

1. Experience bars measuring progress

Many video and online games require the player to defeat or fight opponents in succession.  Often, stages in the game have “bosses,” which are the hardest opponent of each stage, with small battles increasing in difficulty toward the ending boss battle. The experience bars measure this development generally and within each battle (e.g. stamina of opponent) and display it to the player. Seeing one’s own accomplishments has a visceral effect on one’s performance in any setting. Rather than assessing students in separate and un-transitioned tasks (projects, tests, you name it), schools should try implementing what Chatfield calls “character avatars” that would represent the student in his or her progression and development through otherwise unrelated accomplishment. Watching one’s own academic progress over time on an incremental scale would provide that student with the same kind of confidence that a gamer has in defeating the last “boss” after successfully overcoming many smaller challenges. Moreover, players’ and students’ confidence in their ability to accomplish these individual steps allows them to view future tasks with similar confidence and engagement.

2. Rapid, frequent, clear feedback

As Chatfield notes, the most important benefit of feedback is that it reduces the mental divide between actions and consequences. In the recently popular Angry Birds game, one immediately knows to lower the slingshot projection when a launched bird flies over a pig, completely missing the target. The speed of the feedback clearly reduces the temporal gap, while the frequency and clarity of the feedback reinforce and strengthen the information in that feedback.  The point couldn’t be more evident in the realm of education. How many times have you heard the following complaints made about a teacher: “She takes forever to hand back tests”; “He didn’t write any corrections on my paper but gave me a B-“; “She hardly ever is available to answer my questions”. All of the above represent issues of feedback, showing that without constant feedback, students can quickly become detached from their studies.

3. An element of uncertainty

Mario Kart might be one of the most well known video games ever. It’s fun and simple in concept, making it highly accessible to a huge audience. Racing in an elliptical track against other players can be fun, but only for so long. The sharp curves in the road, a slew of hidden obstacles your kart can hit, and, of course, the actions of your competitors all add to the fun of the game. These elements also are, for the most part, uncertain. Learning should similarly incorporate unexpected challenges to keep students engaged while also allowing for application of knowledge.

4. Other people

Multiplayer capabilities in video games definitely make them more exciting. There’s a thrill in working with other players to achieve goals in virtual worlds. The thrill translates outside of the gaming sphere, as people are social beings and are wired to seek out others. Not only do we want to interact with other people, but we need to be social. As evidenced by human history, collaborative efforts are typically the most powerful in influence and admirable in accomplishments. Interactive collaboration among students, from class discussions to group projects, is no exception. Even playing against other people in a video game can build a unique social fabric; there is an inherent trust that those playing will continue for the duration of the game, creating cooperation within the world of the game.

All four strategies work to engage an audience. Surely, if these ideas have been successful for the video/online game industry, why wouldn’t they also work for education in collaboratively engaging students and teachers? That pursuit, for one, doesn’t sound too wasteful to me.

Caitlin Gilbert is a sophomore in the College. She can be reached at [email protected]THE CORTEXT appears every other Tuesday. 

To send a letter to the editor on a recent campus issue or Hoya story or a viewpoint on any topic, contact [email protected]. Letters should not exceed 300 words, and viewpoints should be between 600 to 800 words.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Hoya Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *