Nov 22, 2016 Lauri Järvilehto
One of the first truths you learn about games when you actually start playing them – let alone designing them – is that great games are not easy. Quite the contrary: If a game is too easy, people will soon grow bored of it and switch to another game. The whole key notion of engaging a gamer is to give them a challenge that is a little too difficult to beat – but one that can, with enough resilience and effort, be beaten.
Against this background it is also interesting to see the suspicion many educators have towards gaming. The teacher’s job is not to be an entertainer – true. Schools should not be gaming arcades – true also. Yet teachers and schools might benefit a great deal in understanding gaming dynamics and implementing them in their work to engender amazing learning experiences.
There are many overlaps between gaming and learning, whether you look at their motivational dynamics or even how the brain works when you play or learn. This leads to the conclusion that games can be used as a great platform for learning. One of the more surprising overlaps is this: both gaming and learning take a lot of hard work. To succeed in either requires a tremendous amount of persistence.
Games, however, have one advantage to drive persistence when compared with traditional formal education. They can help you get started easy. I believe this is why so many non-gamers think games are easy: if you only play the first three levels of a casual game, it is true – most if not all great games start off easy.
When designing great games, the first fifteen minutes of the gaming experience are critical. If the gamer feels they are being demanded too much when they have not yet understood the game, they typically give up. Therefore, in game design, making those first fifteen minutes work just right can draw the difference between a hit and a miss.
In formal education, however, learning typically happens at a fixed pace. And if that pace does not suit you – if it doesn’t enable you to get in the flow of learning – too bad for you. Here is where I believe games and learning can indeed find the best match.
Creating a great learning game is notoriously difficult. At Lightneer, we have come to the conclusion that learning games should not even try to compete with the more traditional forms of education. For depth of understanding, books and lectures are still top-notch techniques. But for overcoming that first threshold of starting to learn – for engendering the understanding that what we’re about to learn is truly interesting – games can indeed be a game-changer.
Before we get started in matching up gaming and learning, we need to be clear about one of the most fundamental truths in both: succeeding in a game, and succeeding in learning, takes a lot of work.
Therefore our first and foremost goal both as educators and as game designers should be in how to create an immediate understanding of why that work matters.
Photo: Riku Kylä
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