To Game or Not to Game in Education

In my master’s course, our last assignment was to play a game for three hours.  We were to play Kingdom Rush.  I did not jump right into the game, I took 2 minutes to watch the trailer first.  I probably should have read some instructions, but like I believe most students would do, I just started playing.  I got stuck on level 3 and continued to play it over and over without ever moving beyond the level.  After the first two failed attempts at level 3, I found myself checking my texts and fighting the urge to switch the screen over to my e-mail.  I could not see the value of continuing with this game.  It was not going to make me better in any way, it was going to waste my time to go look up information on how to pass this level when I had so many other things I SHOULD be doing.

When my three hours were over I was thrilled.  The entire time I was playing the game I was thinking about all the things I should be doing.  Needless to say, I did not reach a state of FLOW.  FLOW is complete happiness to the point of losing sense of time because you are so consumed with the task at hand. I believe I did not reach this is because I use games to relax.  I need to be ‘on’ all day in my job and it is mentally exhausting.  When I play a game or read a book for pleasure, I do not want to think strategy, I just want to use it to take my mind off everything else for awhile.

There are digital assignments that would result in me going through the stages of FLOW.  If I had been asked to read about gaming and the benefits or effects on students, I may have reached every level.  If I had been asked to use a technology that I could see myself using in the future such as doing video creation, I could see myself doing that for hours beyond what I needed to do to complete the assignment because I was in a state of FLOW.

We were also asked to read the stages of what makes a good game.  I actually think this game does all of these things.  The only piece I think could be improved is the feedback.  Sometimes I would upgrade and I wasn’t really sure what to do with the items.  Of course I could have gone and looked up the information, but I just did not care enough to do it.  So, this game covered most of the items that make something a good game so why did I not reach flow?  Because I just didn’t care if I moved on or not.  If it had been a game of real estate investment and I was competing against others for properties and having to pay taxes etc, I would have been very motivated to do well because I love learning about real estate so that would be a fun game to me.  For some people, it needs to be a topic of interest.

After all this reflecting it hit me.  I was having the same reaction to this game that some of my children have to their homework.  They cannot see the value of investing the time into learning a challenging math problem.  In English, they tend to write sloppy and do not check their spelling because they would rather go play a video game or go play with friends.  When the challenging math problem is presented they read it quickly and then declare they do not get it.  They take no time to think through the problem or attempt to solve it, it is the immediate response given when they are forced to think through the problem.  I was opposite of this in school.  I always wanted to make sure I knew every step of the problem.  I wanted to know why and how.  This intense studying I went through was not always because I could relate the content to real life, it was because I was motivated by the grading game.  I needed an A and nothing else would do.  I saw a purpose in this A.  It was going to get me scholarships, college acceptance, more job opportunities and so on.  As an adult taking a class, I still want the A but I now value the experience and content application in a way I never did before.  By content application I mean that I take whatever we are learning and try to apply it to my job or my life on my own instead of waiting for the teacher to do it for me.  I want to understand why and how for reasons other than getting an A.  If only every student could be in the workforce for awhile before going to college.  I think they would look at their college experience in an entirely different way.  I compared myself to my children during this process.  I am completely opposite of my son, the only one of my children who games on a consistent basis.  Give my son a video game and he will take the time to do all kinds of strategizing.  He has now played Kingdom Rush more than I have and he is playing it for pleasure (and he has passed level 3).  He is thinking critically about where to place the towers and how to beat the bad guys so it has been a great experience for him.  My concern is, can he control the amount of time he needs to be in a state of FLOW.  When we were at a family gathering the other day he wanted to leave so he could play the game which just made me sad.  He did not ask if we could play a bored game or do something together while we were all there as a family.  While games are a good learning tool, they are also addictive.

When I think of gaming in the classroom, I believe it is a great option for some, but it is not the right choice for every student.  Some students will have a hard time seeing the point of the game and therefore not give forth much effort.  Even if there are questions or assignments built around the game, I think some students will have trouble making the connection.  I believe gaming could be considered one of today’s learning styles, but as with all learning styles, it not a one size fits all.  My son would love learning from a game in the classroom.  His homework would suddenly become fun.

What digital experience have you had that has resulted in you being in a state of FLOW?  Ask your students if there are games they play or something they do online that causes them to lose all track of time.  Their answers may be inspiration to create a new assignment!

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