Before this week, I had never played a video game. Ever. I grew up before they were created and never had any desire to play one. I probably never would have played one, except it was a required task in my social media class. Play a video game for three hours. Thankfully, the professor told us which one to play, or I may still be looking for one.
I dutifully loaded the game (Kingdom Rush) onto my iPad and decided to do as my students do—jump right in. No instructions, no directions. Let’s see what I can find out by clicking here and there. The first few games were, as a fellow student said, “mindless.” I wondered if I was actually playing it right. There had to be more to it than what I was experiencing. So I searched for explanations of the game. I didn’t view this as cheating. I was just trying to see if I was missing something key to this game.
According to what I read, I was playing it. I kept clicking on buttons and found how to purchase some additional weapons. I accidentally was earning gold by killing a few bad guys here and there. I went up a few levels, but don’t really know how I accomplished that.
I played a few games, and then left it. I came back and played a few more. But I was not hooked, probably because I was not advancing very fast and not experiencing the thrill of victory and rewards. I looked at a couple of hints and strategies sites, but couldn’t follow what they were suggesting. It just did not interest me. I certainly was not in the Flow. I kept thinking what else I could be doing besides shooting little soldiers.
I was not frustrated when I was playing. I felt like I was going through the motions of building the fortresses, calling for reinforcements, and releasing a meteor shower. I felt pretty good that I could play the game—even at this low level—after figuring this much out on my own. This is not typical for me. I am definitely one who reads instructions first.
So, how can I relate this experience to learning, and to my students? First, this experience put me in the shoes of my students when I ask them to do a particular task or assignment that they have never done before or are not interested in. I only did it because it was required. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to motivate many students.
Second, I know many of my students do not read directions on tests or assignments or computer work, and probably would not on a video game, either. I showed that’s it possible to figure out how to play the game, even though with more instruction, I probably would have been more successful from the beginning.
Third, I can understand that students would feel rewarded when they “level up.” But I also realize that it needs to be clear how and why those accomplishments are being made. What do they need to do to move up to the next level and what happens when they do? If they approach learning as they approach a videogame, they are wanting to know what’s in it for them. What are the goals, the challenges, the rewards?
Next, I am still interested in learning more about gamification in the classroom. Obviously, video games have hooked many of our students. If we can use components of the games to hook kids into learning and doing schoolwork, I’m all for it.
Finally, my opinion about video games has not changed because of this experience. I am not going to negatively view a person who enjoys playing video games. But I will continue to question why someone would spend hours engaging in this activity, just like they might question why I would spend hours working in my flower gardens. To each, his/her own.