Thursday, September 18

Learning, gaming and me.

I am a poor student.

This is a peculiar statement because on the surface I present as a good student. I attend all classes. I read the required readings. I listen. I ask questions. I am even able to accurately respond to questions for a while. But then something happens, it's complicated, the whole illusion breaks apart and I start to struggle. There are a multitude of reasons for this and they aren't explicitly important in this context except to note that there are number of factors at play and as I wrestle to overcome one problem my efforts are hampered by others. The end result is always the same, in a traditional classroom environment I am a poor student.

James Portnow and Daniel Floyd are currently collaborating on a series of videos that explore learning and games. Their latest discusses tangential learning. While they could benefit from an editor - can't we all? - there's much of interest if one cares about alternative applications available from games. Games can be powerful vectors for education yet as is discussed in the referenced post, educational games are shit (my phrasing, not theirs).

As a dedicated gamer with strong completionist tendencies I have no problems learning the elements of the game, implementing them and then subverting them for my own ends. I have discovered that my "completion" rate is remarkably high when compared to my friends, both real and virtual. In this instance I refer to both types of completion, I complete the actual throughput of gameplay as intended by the developer and I complete the additional material such as found in achievements. My point isn't to elevate myself as a superior gamer as I believe that this behaviour isn't qualitative. It is relevant because if games were a classroom then I'd very nearly be a model student.

Yet I am not.

If I ignore the fun aspects of play for a moment - which are certainly significant motivators but dealt with here, here and here as well many times over throughout the interwebs - what else motivates me to play? Gaming lets me compare the fictional reality of the game world against the real world that I inhabit. Gaming lets me make mistakes that may result in virtual death but are not harmful to me. Gaming lets me just do it, should I not be in a reflective mood I can just poke around and explore. With games I can propose theories and test them. Games are practical models for action with direct rewards that are dependent on the fulfillment of the most "desirable" action. They have a degree of reality that, for me at least, transcends the classroom. Games enable me, they elevate me, they even sometimes send me off on some tangent as I struggle to keep up with my "normal" peers in some classroom that teaches the Sephiroth.

I've met a lot of people like me. People who do not learn well in the classroom environment, who find practical activity more productive. Games don't really embrace this capacity well and educational games are frequently little more than interactive electronic lesson plans. While it may not be art, should developers decide to incorporate a design principle that incorporates educational goals they will definitely elevate the medium.

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