Point I missed from Aldrich roundtable

One of the important discussion we had that I remembered last night dealt with the “limits of gamification”. In the discussion of gaming in context of “leveling up”, “+1’s”, trophys, etc. there was a discussion about how long you can string people along with that. I brought up the example of World of warcraft where many consider “the game really starts when you’ve level up to max” and Mike Martin brought up research that physical rewards for physical tasks are more effective than virtual rewards for virtual tasks.

Clark tied this into his “pyramid” – the lower the level on the pyramid, the more effective “gamification” typically is. That agrees with my navy training background and our old saw “Train to replicate, educate to innovate”. gamification is great for getting people up to speed on the processes – the training end, but as puzzle game players know, there is a certain maturity level players reach where they want more than a badge for figuring out the process to clear a level, they want novelty.

The upshot was that the higher up the “player maturity” scale the less virtual rewards play and more you have to reward player ingenuity with novelty – either by “unlocking” new regions to explore, or by presenting a greater variety of puzzles to solve. Clack drew a sinusoidal “frustration curve” for good game play where the player is driven to frustration and seeks – and find – resolution. Set the bar too low and the player stops getting frustrated and the game is unchallenging and interest tails off. Set the bar too high too early and the player can’t resolve his frustration and give up.

I am reading Jonah Lehrers new book “Imagine: How creativity works” (I found his previous “How we decide” an interesting, if a bit too pop-sciencey read – this one is the same – some really great nuggets between lofty unproven claims) One of the keys to creativity, according to Lehrer’s pop-neuroscience conjecturing is that before we get the “BFO” (Brilliant Flash of the Obvious), we hit a brick wall and in effect “give up” in our heads. That frustration level is required to get us to abandon preconceived notions and really engage the problem ‘on all cylinders’. I find it interesting that “good gameplay” follows a similar sort of course – we need to be frustrated and discover an ‘aha’ moment – a moment of true creativity – for a game to ‘be really good’.

The connection is really important I think, as is Clack’s notion that it takes a lot of investment in time and thought to get to that point. And therein lies the problem I think some have with gaming in an educational setting. Gaming is often sold as a more time efficient way of teaching, when that is only true when you completely embrace the ‘gaming’ paradigm of educating. IF a game is just the “capstone” that you tack onto the end of a traditional classroom setting, you are more likely to get people to the frustration point, without giving them the TIME to resolve it. You need to integrate game play into the curriculum from the start and allow the time for the player to work his way up the pyramid from the “gamey” stages of level ups and badges, to the point where its possible to need – and overcome – the frustration point. This is a cycle that take many ten’s to a few hundred hours in “good game play” – but we bemoan “gaming doesn’t work like its promised” because we can only give it at best a 40 hour week to accomplish its miracle. Gaming is not effective becasue it takes too much time, but there is plenty of time to spend on realtively inefficeint classroom time, becasue “that’s how we always did it”. Serious academics read books, they don’t play games.

The thing is, once you get the initial investment into the players, that is when you reap the reward of making large strides – at least if you believe the conjecture about how creative thought works and the relationship between creative thought and gameplay. HIgher education is getting close to the point of accepting the reality that “what we know is wrong about the classroom teaching paradigm” really IS wrong, and that technology is giving us a way out that is increasingly “a BFO”.

Will military educators be innovator’s in this transition, or will it be a laggard…?? In a time of tight budgets isn’t education the place investment should be encouraged? Or will we, like we tend to do, try to preserve the status quo by cutting education and analysis…becasue they are not “force structure” (…yet…)?


About Paul Vebber

"If you read about something, you have learned about it. If you can teach something, you have mastered it. Designing a useful game about something however, requires developing a deep understanding of how it relates to other things."
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