Flipping the chocolate-covered broccoli

Last month I was in a distinctly middle class English supermarket which shall go nameless. In the confectionary section, an oddly vegetable-like display required closer examination. And this is what it was:

Milk chocolate with a sprout wrapping

Chocolate balls (image: yummy) covered in surprisingly realistic foil wrapping to make them appear like small sprouts (image: getitoutofmymouth).

Which is a reminder of the metaphor, or analogy, of chocolate-covered broccoli. Here, the theory goes, learning is not fun (like eating broccoli) but if you wrap a video game around it which is fun and attractive and enticing (like eating chocolate) then learning will take place (the broccoli will be eaten).

It’s kind of a bit weird as an example, being so extreme. Though that’s what makes it a simple and clear example. But, although widely used, it’s also never one I’ve been totally comfortable with as on analysis it doesn’t hold up very well:

  1. It reduces the game player, or broccoli eater, to someone who is gullible or not very bright. A person able to literally swallow the broccoli, or learning, without realising. In this respect, it’s a somewhat patronising analogy.
  2. In fact, it reduces the player, learner, broccoli consumer to a sub-human level, like a pet. A dog being made to take a pill from the vet by covering it in dog food to disguise the appearance and taste. And some dogs manage to detect the pill and avoid it anyway.
  3. Not everyone likes chocolate – not everyone likes video games. Those who do like different kinds of chocolate. I like plain chocolate, but not milk chocolate (too sweet), for example.
  4. Not everyone dislikes broccoli – not everyone dislikes learning. It depends on the person, and what is being learnt. And those who like broccoli prefer it in different ways. Some steamed, some boiled, a few raw. That’s possibly a better analogy for learning, albeit more nuanced than a simplistic yummy/vile one.
  5. Once the player, learner, broccoli eater realises they have been “fooled”, they may be forever wary of the dispenser of chocolate covered items. Trust is broken.

Anyway, the sprout-appearance chocolate balls in the posh supermarket reminded me of this last night. I suspect there will be a lot of these severely marked down in sale price just after Christmas, so that may be a better time to buy. After remembering that it’s chocolate, wrapped in leaf-effect shiny green foil. But still, just chocolate.

May 2015, Lüneburg: Diversity of Play

Website: projects.digital-cultures.net/digra2015

14-17 May 2015, Leuphana University, Lüneburg, Germany.

The conference aims to address the challenge of studying and documenting games, gaming and gamers, in a time when these categories are becoming so general and/or contested, that they might risk losing all meaning. Given this, what concepts do we need to develop in order for our research to be cumulative and how do we give justice to the diverse forms of play found in different games and game cultures?

DiGRA2015 is an event ONLY for DiGRA members. All participants are required to have a valid membership for the conference. If you do not have a valid membership, please choose “for non-DiGRA member” in order to get the required membership.

The final program and the conference leaflet.

A digital games in learning infokit

May in this year included the lunch-launch (or launch-lunch?) of the Jisc Digital Media infokit on Digital Games in Learning. You can find From Flappy Bird to furthering learning on their website.

Why? Because lunch.

Infokit and cheesecake

Why the infokit? Because it’s needed. Digital (and analogue) games in learning have been around for decades. Like skateboarding and the Internet, they are not a new concept, and whether people like them or not, they aren’t going to go away.

Which presents two related problems:

  1. How do people use games to “help” with teaching and learning?
  2. And, based on increasing experience, how do people avoid using games that don’t help with teaching and learning?

The second problem is as interesting as the first, and is becoming more pressing as a new wave of Gamification consultants and companies work their way around UK academia, looking for opportunities in some cases to do good work, but in others to tarmac a layer of league tables and points over learning systems in exchange for large bags of cash.

Mobile tech

With the demands of learners to, well, learn quicker, faster, better, the effectiveness of salespeople and vendors, the buzz around Games in Learning often obscuring the more nuanced research, the popularity of gaming, and the pressures on teachers and facilitators of all ages of students, it’s easy to be seduced by the allure of digital games. Unfortunately, though there isn’t (yet) a large hole in the ground filled with copies of a disastrous edutainment game, there is a long history of academia throwing a lot of money at digital games and not getting back what they wanted, needed, or thought they were getting in return.

Pizza

But … there are also been success stories. Digital games and environments which have been, or are, used either accidentally or deliberately as education facilitators. Over delicious sourdough pizza, the Jisc Futurist and I conversed on the uses of Minecraft in particular, and how it compared to Second Life from an ease-of-use-in-academia perspective.

And we discussed – and persistently came back to – DuoLingo, the free online language learning system which is addictive compelling to use, without the need for external motivations. Why does it work? How does it work? What are the makers of it getting out of it (that one’s interesting)? How can DuoLingo be used within formal teaching, or even UK FE or HE? How can elements of DuoLingo – either concepts, systems or the more “feel good” attributes – be put into other game-based learning systems?

Dessert described

Anyway; have a look at the infokit. It’s tilted towards academics who have little or no experience of games – those perhaps more easily seduced by their apparent and actual uses – so experts may not glean so much of use from the texts.

The dessert, by the way, was an orange cheesecake (chosen because of the logo color of the infokit funders). It was delicious. Thanks to Martin for an enjoyable lunch, and to Karla, National services director of Jisc Digital Media, for her considerable help and professionalism throughout the development of this infokit. By the way, you might want to check out the other guides they have funded and host; there’s quite a few.

Cheesecake

Once more unto the gamification breach

(How one word can ruin a classic phrase, any phrase, but I’ll come back to that)

It’s the first of December. The shortest day is soon here; the earliest sunset, for those of us who like walks in the woods, somewhat earlier. Christmas saturates the TV, the High Street and the online Street. My gym is quiet, never a wait for the rowing machines, for one more month until the New Year resolution people make an appearance or two.

And today I’m starting a new piece of work, in the tricky, controversial and sometimes deeply annoying niche of Gamification in Education. Over the next few months I’m synthesizing existing and emerging research, and actual examples, with some critical leeway. The format of the completed and public work is not strictly cast in stone but is currently slated as ten lumps of text as headlined in this snapshot from the contract:

snapshot

I’m glad I’m doing this work. It snugly complements a larger framework of Games in Education research, with a defined timescale, that I’m knee-deep in. And there’s a long-term itch, this gamification in education issue I’ve been wanting to scratch, now that there’s a substantial amount of contemporary research to read. Some of which so far has inspired, some has left me with an empty nihilistic feeling, and a fraction has made me quietly despair for either the future of humanity, or education, or the notion that the end-point of research is no longer to add to the sum of human knowledge.

But of the better research in gamification and the related-but-not-the-same field of games in education, Nic Whitton‘s excellent “Digital Games and Learning: Research and Theory” book concludes, in part, with:

“…I believe that the current hype over gamification will die down, as it is shown not to be a motivational panacea, and the market will become saturated with points, badges and leaderboards. However, there may be a gradual shift towards more sophisticated models of gamification…”

…and I have a gut feeling Nic will be proved right. Ian Bogost, a game culture critique and digital cow curator, entertainingly (with a point) takes a sceptical stance on gamification:

“More specifically, gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway.”

At the other end of the tech-in-ed spectrum are many who fly various pro-gamification banners, including the problematic badges for everything brigade (an early title of the 3,000+ word specification for this work was ‘Badges are not the only fruit’). No, badges. Everywhere. Personally, I’ll be curious as to how much my feeling on gamification has shifted come the end of this work. It should be more nuanced; if not, I’ve done something wrong. Whether it’s more pro- or anti-, and whether the feeling is the same with gamification as applied to (or forced on) education, is another thing.

As a side-point and conclusion here, a small part of the problem with gamification is … the word gamification. It sounds horribly artificial, something dreamt up by the marketing team from hell. Perhaps it was? Some find it difficult to say. And it’s five syllables so it really slows down a piece of writing or monologue, and trips up the speaker or reader, pointlessly. Say ‘’gamification’ fifteen times (no badge for doing that) and see how annoying it is by the end.

Those three factors, combined, possibly prejudice and pre-load much impartial discussion. I’m also not looking forward to reading it, and writing it, many times a day for a few months so one of the very first things that will be done – partially to offset bias, and partially to maintain sanity – will be to try and find an alternative or workaround.

Wish me luck (or, at the least, the retention of objective sanity).

May 2015, Tampere: Adult Play

Website: adultplayseminar.wordpress.com

11-12 May 2015, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland.

adultplay

Organised by: gamelab.uta.fi

This is an interesting conference to attend, or present at. The Game Research Lab at Tampere University are also a friendly group of pro-active researchers; the best conference I have ever attended was their 2007 Gamers in Society seminar.

(And yes, the seminar cover photo is a little scary)

Systematic literature review

The September 2012 issue of Computers and Education contains the paper:

A systemic literature review of empirical evidence on computer games and serious games.

Authors: Thomas Connolly, Elizabeth Boyle, Ewan MacArthur, Thomas Hainey and James Boyle.

Abstract: This paper examines the literature on computer games and serious games in regard to the potential positive impacts of gaming on users aged 14 years or above, especially with respect to learning, skill enhancement and engagement. Search terms identified 129 papers reporting empirical evidence about the impacts and outcomes of computer games and serious games with respect to learning and engagement and a multidimensional approach to categorizing games was developed. The findings revealed that playing computer games is linked to a range of perceptual, cognitive, behavioural, affective and motivational impacts and outcomes. The most frequently occurring outcomes and impacts were knowledge acquisition/content understanding and affective and motivational outcomes. The range of indicators and measures used in the included papers are discussed, together with methodological limitations and recommendations for further work in this area.

My notes: This is an excellent review of nearly 130 papers, from 2004 to early 2009, concerned with the use of computer and serious games in learning. It’s an easy read, but has much substance, presented in a neutral manner.

More information at: