Let’s Game…Or Not?

In education on July 24, 2013 at 12:45 pm

It is no secret that I am against gamification of learning so if you want to argue about it that is not what I intend to here. What I wanted to focus on is one aspect of gamification that seriously undermines education: games related to the world’s most serious issues – hunger, poverty, war, gender and others.
I tweeted these this morning upon coming across a website that listed 26 Learning Games to Change the World

“Online games that deal with the world’s toughest issues. Scoring points will change the world?

This gamification of pain and misery is so unnatural. Literally playing with them. What kind of children do we nurture?”


You might be pro- games. I do not want to convince you otherwise. But I do want you to ponder on the ethical aspect of games in relation to topics such as the ones enumerated above.

Will our children become more empathetic if they score points in a simulation?

Will our children become more sensitive to the real world if they play with hunger and war?

Will our children understand the real world if they “game”?

I think the opposite is true. We desensitize them completely. We make them immune to how it feels to be hungry. To be a war victim. To be in pain.

This is literally gamification of human misery. If you think your children become better by playing it, do it. But I truly think there are other ways. More powerful, more authentic, with long-lasting effects.

Take them to a hospital to read to patients. Skype with or invite war veterans to tell their stories. Take them on a walk in the neighborhood. Set up a connection with a class and help them build a library across the world like Laurie Renton’s class did. Plant a tree with them.

These will change hearts. Not a silly game where you shoot to get points and “save” the world.

  1. Not being a computer fan, and not being a ‘points = prizes’ fan either, I’d normally agree. Except…. a few years ago I came across a game called ‘Garbage Dreams’. It’s online, super simple, run by PBS in the States. You run an area wide recycling system (think: Sim City + EcoWarriers). As part of the game you separate different types of rubbish and become aware of the costs of recycling different things. Sounds lame but it’s the only game I’ve ever found myself wanting to play.

    Even weirder than liking a game was the fact that over the week or so of playing it I noticed my recycling habits changed. I became more aware of what to separate, and what couldn’t be recycled (e.g. coffee cups from shops are often wax-coated so unrecyclable, hence I bought a refillable cup). Gradually I was nudged into more prosocial recycling behaviours.

    Conclusion? Games can occasionally ‘improve the world’. But o/wise you’re right: gaming pain and misery is a very odd endeavor indeed.

  2. Not as harrowing as your examples, but in a similar vein, I once saw a demonstration by a company exhorting the virtue of their race to the moon competition. You answer a (geography) question correctly, you fly closer to the moon. The first to land there wins. The competition encourages learning, they said. I saw it as them tacitly acknowledging that their questions were so boring, or rather, the way they were presenting knowledge as discrete items to be learned (not like your “the answer’s 7, what’s the question?) was so boring, that the only way they believed they could maintain interest was by fabricating a game. I see others, like shoot the adjectives before they fall to the bottom of the screen. I expect you’re not a fan either 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: