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Gamification: education made fun

benjamin's picture
Gamification: the application of game-design thinking to non-game activities to make them more fun, engaging and educational (image credit: www.alleywatch.com).

But moooom, I am learning!

Whenever I hear the word gamification, come across yet another study about gaming and cognitive improvements or simply use a word which I picked up from a video game I can't help but think back to a time when gaming was condemned, publically assaulted and generally dismissed as mind numbing entertainment.

It's such a pity that the world has only recently picked up on the sheer potential of gamification - especially in the realm of education. Just thinking back on all the things gaming has taught me... I'm seriously grateful for the fact that my parents were relatively lax on playtime limitations!

A quick recap of some of the things I've learned from gaming:
History: I can say with confidence that, in just a few short weeks, Age of Empires II taught me more about history than any given year at school. From Joan of Arc to Attila the Hun I didn't simply listen to dry academic retellings of the past, but engaged with this past in new, challenging and informative ways.

Economics: World of Warcraft, set as it is in a massively multiplayer online world, has a very nuanced and interesting economic system which requires players to both assess and adapt to any number of real-time socio-economic fluctuations. From figuring out how to successfully exploit the auction house to buying out virtual stocks during a market crash I essentially learnt the basics of free market capitalism without even knowing it.

Decision making: With highly competitive eSport games, one has to be mentally swift to survive. Games like DOTA2 have, without a shadow of a doubt, enhanced my ability to make on the fly decisions by taking into account a number of simultaneous factors, assessing the best way of dealing with those factors and calculating the chance of a successful outcome given a certain reaction.

Language: Not only has gaming introduced me to numerous languages (from Spanish to Greek) but it has been a definitive factor in the expansion of my own lexicon. With my love for role playing games such as Diablo, I was forced from a very young age to look up tons of words so that I could understand what certain spells actually did, how to finish quests or simply how manage my in-game settings or installation. Without the Gauntlets of Alacrity it would have taken me at least a few more years until I understood either of those terms.

Problem Solving: I got seriously lucky when my father came home one day holding The Curse of Monkey Island in his hands. From this puzzle-adventure game I was forced, at the tender age of nine, to solve puzzles so complex that I still struggle with them today. From compass-based navigation to means of oral persuasion, these adventure games provided me with a vast array of  skills which have, I would argue, both improved my general knowledge and problem solving abilities.

Patience and strategy: Real time strategy games such as Starcraft opened my mind up to the benefits of proper planning, time management and patience. Instead of simply attacking the enemy head on, I eventually found myself subconsciously planning means of cutting off enemy supply routes, setting up ambushes or working to slowly but surely chip away at the enemy's defenses. In effect, I was exposed to the necessity of patience and planning in the road to success.

Mythology: Fantasy games, based as they almost always are on classical mythology, not only opened up new and exciting vistas of imagination but exposed me to anything from Homeric storytelling to Egyptian folk-lore. I still remember using, almost exclusively, Titan's Quest as a means of studying for my first year Classics exam... despite what one might think, I managed an A for that paper.

Evolution: It's one thing to know of evolution, it's another to try and battle through the process yourself. New and innovative games such as Spore fling players into a world where survival of the fittest is explained like never before. From designing your own herbivores, to ensuring the cellular division of microbiotic organisms, Spore helped explain evolution in a way I'll never forget.

Structural and aesthetic design: When I moved into my new apartment this year, all I needed was one simple look at the size of the room and the amount and shape of the objects which needed to full it for me to come up with a mental plan of attack. Thanks to games such as The Sims, I have not only been exposed to more interior design than I care to divulge, but developed and built on my own personal aesthetic tastes in the process - tastes which are still alive and kicking in my room today.

Computer literacy: Perhaps most noticable of all, I was dropped in the digital deep end from the very first time I popped Monkey Island's disc into the drive. Figuring out how to solve graphical bugs, patch unresponsive audio files, change graphics cards, reapply heatsink paste, make sense of and apply knowledge regarding CPU optimization and, perhaps most importantly, solving problems on my own (my parents were little help here)... these are just some of the skills gaming has inadvertantly given me. Skills which, in this age of the information revolution, I am more than grateful to have.

... Hell I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.
Video games, and not just those dry educational ones (yes Magic School Bus, I'm looking at you), hold enormous potential for education and cognitive training. I'm glad to see this potential finally being explained and exploited and not only in schools but in the workplace too. Please, if you are or ever become the parent of a gamer, think twice about the ways in which you limit their gaming experience. Of course one must be selective about the games they play (I never learnt jack from Duke Nukem) but, ultimately, allowing them some extra room to breath (strategize, problem solve and learn) could just save you a whole lot of money on extra lessons in the long run.