As a kid, I played Super Mario Brothers, because, well, it was awesome. And I still remember the theme songs: the happy little tune when Mario and Luigi jumped over obstacles and knocked into boxes to get rewards as well as the more haunting tune when they jumped into the plumbing to face bad guys. I liked the challenge, the rewards, and completing the mission.
I'm fond of video games, even in my adult life. While I don't support the video games that are unnecessarily violent or those that perpetuate stereotypes, there are actually a lot of good qualities in a thoughtfully crafted video game.
Here are five qualities of a video game that can be transferred to the classroom experience:
1. It's fun: Learning should be fun! Learning is fun! It's fascinating to discover something new about our world. It's fun being transported to a brand new world in an exciting book. It's fun to act out a story. Those that feel learning shouldn't be fun are missing something inherent to learning. If learning isn't fun, then what should it be? Boring? Dull? Having fun does not mean goofing around and being off task. We can have fun while being on task and engaged in an exciting activity that helps us learn something. After all, if something isn't fun for us, why keep doing it?
2. It's collaborative: My favorite games are the ones that require you to work with other players to achieve a common goal. Even if you're playing on your own in the game, often the game is set up to make you feel like you're part of a group and that everyone has a role to play. But, if you play split-screen with a partner, you have the choice to play against each other or together to fight against a common obstacle. I much prefer the collaborative aspect of a game where people work together to achieve a common goal. The best part is that most people have different jobs, different missions, different experiences, and different ideas on how to achieve the mission. This can be transferred to the classroom experience. Every student should have a specific task, a specific job, and will naturally have their own ideas on how to solve a mission.
3. It's challenging: As Lev Vygotsky would say, working with another makes you a head taller than yourself. If you're in the zone of proximal development, you are pushing yourself to take on more. With another person, you are able to do even more than you might be able to accomplish on your own. Video games can be quite challenging, but they're designed to still motivate you to complete the challenge and get to the next level, the next mission, the next location, and eventually the next part of the story. When I've played Portal, for example, it's fun to solve the puzzles with a partner, but it's even more rewarding to overcome the challenge and get to the next level.
4. It's engaging: I enjoy the story line in most video games. There are characters we often root for and those we are against. Being a part of a story and even crafting a story together is naturally engaging. Creating compelling characters and situations we want to fight for or against are important. Making learning relevant isn't new, but teaching and presenting through stories is becoming more popular and is incredibly effective when done well.
5. It's beatable: I love beating the game. I want to complete the mission, save the princess, protect the world, and maybe even save the universe. While these are lofty goals, in video games, they are attainable if you work hard enough. But there's a finish line. This needs to be clearly articulated in the classroom too - what's the end goal? What will happen at the end of the mission? I don't mean to say rewards are needed, for the idea of completing the task should be reward enough, especially after facing challenges. The end of the mission should be clearly laid out (with some surprises to come later), but students should be excited and should want to get to the finish line. They should want to beat the game.
What else can gaming teach us? How else can we apply it in the classroom?