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Monday, June 25, 2018

Gameful Design: A Potential Game Changer | EDUCAUSE Review

Gameful design embraces incremental implementations of proven intrinsic motivators while it acknowledges, accentuates, and builds on the work that good instructors do as second nature.

"Gamification (both the term and the concept) has become a double-edged sword. The notion of making a game out of an educational experience, lesson, content, or activity is one that has been chased for centuries." says Kevin Bell, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Digital Futures, at Western Sydney University. He is the author of Game On! Gamification, Gameful Design, and the Rise of the Gamer Educator (2017). 

But the idea of turning a learning activity into a game that will rival those from game companies such as Electronic Arts (EA), Rovio, and Nintendo is something that is simply not going to happen. As a result, a number of educational technology (edtech) companies either are leaning away from the gamification term entirely or are switching to other modalities that are more like adaptive scenarios than full games. Games (or even more basic simulations) are very difficult to get right and are extremely expensive to build. Even in the professional game-development world, for every successful World of Warcraft (WoW), Halo, or Angry Birds, there are tens of thousands of failed attempts. The complex mix of narrative (neither too cheesy nor too complex), appropriate challenge (neither too easy nor too hard), motivating rewards (both meaningful and intrinsic), and feedback loops is incredibly troublesome and costly to package into a whole experience. 

Trying to align learning outcomes with a narrative runs the very real risk of producing what has been termed "chocolate-covered broccoli." There are, of course, educational games that have stood the test of time. The Oregon Trail was designed to teach about the realities of 19th-century pioneer life. The player assumes the role of a wagon leader guiding a party of settlers, in 1848, from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon's Willamette Valley in a covered wagon. Created in 1971, it is one shining example — from forty-seven years ago. Making learning into a game is difficult.

Instead, I prefer (and teach) the concept of gameful design. The distinction is subtle but important. Whereas gamification equates to making a game of an activity, gameful design looks at the various aspects and intrinsic motivators that are embedded in successful games (and in other nongame events) and asks whether those elements can be replicated and woven into classroom and online activities. The goal is to move toward flow — to the point where engagement becomes seamless and (even) compulsive, rather than dreaded and/or labored. Gameful design thus looks at the elements that make games, or other forms of engagement, intriguing and then applies those principles to educational experiences. In this way, and by defining intrinsic motivation or motivators in terms that many educators recognize and already try to incorporate, gameful design reflects and builds on things that good instructors do as second nature. In good learning experiences (as in good sports or good hobbies), participants are challenged, are provided with prompt and supportive feedback, are supported to reduce their fear of failure, and are encouraged through cooperation and/or teamwork. These are all gameful design principles.

In a semiregular online class, I teach these principles to academics, practitioners, and "pracademics" (the combination term for career academics who are also active practitioners in their subject). My class is aimed at people who have picked up the role of supporting their colleagues in basic edtech logistics and who, in the continual quest to find new ideas and means of motivating and engaging students, want to hear more about and experiment with gamification. During the course, we typically end up spending a lot of time on definitions. Some class participants want to make real games, whereas others "get it" when I try to gently redirect their attention to gameful design — which, in my mind, has a better chance of actually influencing teaching and learning. The conversation in class frequently reminds me of the dialogue in Monty Python's Life of Brian: "Judean People's Front? Nah. People's Front of Judea!" But the distinctions here do merit attention. They represent the difference between the unachievable and the potentially significant applications of current and emerging technologies. 
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Source: EDUCAUSE Review