Games are fun. School is usually not. The idea behind Gamification is that if students are having fun, they might learn more. To truly understand Gamification we should ask a few questions: Why are games fun? How do they create that fun? How can schools co-opt these strategies to become more fun? A possible source of answers is the 4 Keys 2 Fun model. Nicole Lazzaro has proposed four types of fun that players experience while playing games. Each type of fun is created through a specific set of objectives and conditions. While I do not completely agree with the nomenclature and all of the specifics this model presents, I still find it a useful framework for this discussion. I would like to walk through the four sources of gaming fun and examine how schools might capitalize on each of them.
Mastery is Fun- In Lazzaro’s model, Hard Fun is described as the feeling of accomplishment or “fiero” that players feel when finally overcoming a difficult task. The greater the challenge, the more intense feeling of “fiero.” Mastery is the mechanism that drives this feeling. Games are fun because they consistently offer the highest level of challenge that a player is capable of mastering. However, it seems to me that traditional schools miss the opportunity to activate this type of fun because they set the bar at the same level for everyone. If you accomplish the standard, you are proficient. Not much fun in that. For some students the state standard may be to difficult; for others, too easy. Either way, teaching to the middle will very rarely evoke “fiero,” but will often create frustration or boredom. Schools that offer diversified, rigorous challenge will engage students with this type of “hard fun.”
Exploration is Fun- Easy Fun is the term that Lazzaro uses to describe the type of fun experienced while exploring the possibilities of a game environment. I do not think that this term is very descriptive nor does it truly capture the hard work involved in exploration. I dare you to tell Magellan, Shackleton, or Indiana Jones that they are having “easy fun.” The act of exploring involves complex, systematic processes and risk taking. Terminology aside, schools can give students an opportunity to explore as well. Properly designed learning experiences allow students to create their own paths, which turns out to be a lot harder and more rewarding (fun) than following step by step instructions.
Socialization is Fun- Lazzaro calls this People Fun. Any classroom teacher knows that students are highly motivated by interacting with other students. In multiplayer games, much of the fun comes not from the game structures, but from the other players in the space. The players themselves alter the game space by providing impromptu opportunities for cooperation and competition. School is the ultimate opportunity for students to interact with each other on a large scale, yet traditional schools try very hard to minimize student interaction in the learning environment. Everything, from the lesson plan, to the physical space, to classroom culture, indicates that students should limit their interactions. Unleashing the power of “people fun” a tricky balancing act that teeters between guided collaboration and chaos. When done well, a highly social learning environment can provide opportunities previously unimagined by the institution.
Making a Difference is Fun- According to Lazzaro, the type of fun experienced when players feel that their work matters is called Serious Fun. Thanks to our vast communication network, we are now all global citizens. I call upon classrooms to engage in some “serious fun.” We all have the opportunity to make a difference not just in our community, but all over the globe. Let’s use this network to find wrongs to right, plan our course of action, and unleash our solution to the world. Students should no longer be expected to turn their work IN, they should be encouraged to turn their work LOOSE.
School is already a game. There is an objective, rules, a feedback system, and a set of players. I believe in the power of Gamification and what it can do to increase student motivation. However, at its core, I see Gamification as an excuse for students to have more fun in a game which at every turn is designed to stop the fun before it starts. If you need Gamification or Game Based Learning as an excuse to have more fun in school, by all means, use it. But maybe we should forego adding yet another thing to the pile and simply look to the potential for fun which already exists in schools. All we have to do is NOT get in the way of the FUN that students are ready to have. Students want to succeed. Give them challenges appropriate to their individual readiness. Students want to explore their world. Give them the tools and leeway to find something other than what’s in the textbook. Students want to socialize. Let them exercise this in a productive, positive environment. Students want to make a difference. Leverage the power of connectivity to allow students to feel that their work is actually making a better world. School already has the potential to be fun, but only if we do not get in the way.
Want to read more about Gamification? Check out the Insert Coin Series which details best practice for educational gamification.