Gaming, Game Design, and Gamification in the Classroom


Ed Tech Friday is a continuing discussion of the issues and concerns surrounding the implementation of technology in schools and classrooms. 

Gaming, Game Design, and Gamification in the classroom are three different things, we’ll talk about each.

This week, gaming.

There are three distinct trends happening in education that have “game” in the name, somewhere. A lot of writers are confusing the terms, and there is some overlap. But for our discussion, we want to talk about all three and clarify the differences between each.

A)     Using games, specifically videogames, as educational tools. This usually means students will play a game that is designed to provide educational value, as well as perform certain assessment tasks.

B)      Gamification. This term does not apply to playing videogames, but to applying game-like aspects to non-game activities. For instance, providing quest rewards for everyday classroom tasks.

C)      Allowing students to develop games. Involving students in the game design process is an activity that can teach a variety of other skills.

There is a lot of research on why and how videogames are effective teaching tools, but I think the best way to start is from personal experience. I play a lot of videogames. Sometimes I think of this as mindless entertainment, sort of liking watching bad television. But it is far different. For one thing, it isn’t always fun in the soft, hedonistic way we imagine.

When playing videogames, I am often getting “schooled” by better players. Or, if playing by myself, I am struggling to solve increasingly complex problems. Videogames today are carefully calibrated to provide a learning curve that is just steep enough to be constantly challenging while providing just enough reward to keep the player going. I know that I spend more time being frustrated than being elated when I play. A startling amount of the time I spend in a popular game, such as Skyrim, is spent gathering resources and crafting items that give me character the right tools to meet the actual challenges. Basically, a game about fighting dragons sends the player out to pick flowers first.

In my experience, videogames do the following:

Provide challenges and problems to solve

Escalate the challenges based on previous player performance

Scale the sense of reward so that I will continue to work through frustrating problems

Some professional educators have a much longer list of why and how games are particularly effective at supporting the teaching process. Professor Chris Haskell, Clinical Assistant Professor at Boise State University, provides the following:

  • allow choice
  • offer multiple pathways
  • credit all successes
  • scaffold difficulty
  • reward efforts
  • show progress
  • allow us to collect meaningful artifacts
  • let us learn from failure
  • allow leveling up
  • influence the story
  • are fun.

Videogames are being embraced by STEM educators, particularly. However, they are also being promoted for learning English, international relations, and even as a way for children to understand clinical trials. Games are even being used to help children develop stronger social skills.

More importantly, most children are playing videogames anyway. A recent survey puts the number at 97% of young people, but it may as well be 100%. Videogames are very present in the lives of young people. Videogames help define expectations for engagement, entertainment, and learning. The future of education will naturally want to take this into account.