I’ve always loved designing and playing games as a way of helping teachers and pupils learn new skills and knowledge. I used to particularly enjoy designing and running management games which sometimes ran for the whole duration of a 3 or 4 day residential course and were based on a simulated timescale, an imaginary location, authentic detail (like budgets, minutes of meeting, daily newspapers etc) and usually supported by lots of ‘outsiders’ role playing at being themselves – bank managers, auditors, politicians, trade union officials, pressure groups, auctioneers and the like.
Add to this the board games, card games and physical games I have enjoyed designing together with a passion for using technology in learning, so just why was I so cynical about computer based games for learning? Even the word ‘gamification’ horrified my linguistic sensibilties.
I think there are probably several reasons: Firstly, I have never played computer games (other than the occasional game of Free Cell while waiting for a train) so I had all sorts of preconceived ideas. My only experience was of my teenage sons seemingly fighting aliens. Secondly, the value of most of the games I had created lay in the open-endedness of the game – the ability for me to ad-lib and change the direction of the game according to the participants’ responses. I could not really believe that even the most sophisticated computer algorithms could simulate that. Thirdly, most of ‘my’ games involved participants in real life behaviours such as mounting an exhibition, making a presentation, creating a physical artefact or designing a process. Lastly, I knew I did not have the technology skills to design an interactive computer game and so I felt that I could bring nothing to the gamification party.
A year or so later, I have been proved wrong on all counts (except possibly the last one – I still don’t have the programming skills I need to create a game!). I think the mind shift initially came from just a single infographic which I will share. My problem, obviously, had been lack of knowledge, lack of understanding, no mental framework for classifying and organising learning games, no clear list of benefits, no idea on how I could contribute to creating games – together with an unhelpfully cynical attitude.