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#MinecraftLA: Game or Tool?

One of the questions raised at #MinecraftLA Summit was:  Q2: When does a game cease to be a game and become a tool?

Vu Bui, COO of Mojang, stated in his introductory remarks that Mojang’s position is that Minecraft is, first and foremost. a game.  He recognized that while Minecraft is a game used in school, it’s NOT  an educational game. When used for education, it becomes a tool.

Why did Vu feel it important to make that distinction? What’s the difference? Does it even matter?

As the afternoon wore on and teachers became increasingly caught up in semantics, Julian Boss from University of Washington asked us to clarify desired outcomes and think in terms of both short term and long term goals. Echoing Vu, he reminded us that Minecraft ceases to be a game when used to teach- it becomes a tool.

I am fascinated by this question. I actually agree with those who believe a game ceases to be a game once playing it is required. That being said, does it mean we shouldn’t use games in school as tools? And does it mean that we can’t make games compulsory?

Great teachers have been employing the use of games in their curriculum long before the digital games came on the scene. Math teachers use games on a regular basis to engage kids and practice concepts.  PE is a compulsory subject that relies heavily on all kinds of games. Let’s face it, who would want to take PE if games weren’t involved?

I believe the relevance of the this question is NOT to ask IF we should use games in school, rather to examine our rationale behind our pedagogy using games. I believe Vu and Julian were being protective of what gamers’ value most about gaming – the PLAY itself.

As educators, when we co-op a game for the classroom, we tend to overlook the learning already embedded in playing the game. In fact, we typically only value a game after we have changed it by inserting our own constructed goals into the play. We miss the fact that a well designed game can ACTUALLY teach us something valuable about the process of learning. This is the crucial point for me.

Educators depend on co-opting media and repurposing it for learning. Sometimes we show snippets of film or read passages from printed and digital publications. We borrow, mash-up and remix all the time- all in the spirit of “learning.”  So, should it be any different with games?  I believe most gamers would tell us, YES!  In comparing the consumption of traditional media to digital games, what makes games unique is the player is engaged in a constant cycle of acting and reacting. The participatory nature of the play makes it a highly personal and immersive experience.

The minute I step into a game it is all about how I experience the game. Whether I’m trying to best my personal performance in a puzzle game or working with my guild to take down a legendary boss, it’s a very personal journey. Narratives uniquely unfold as I progress through each game, whether I’m playing solo or with others.

That kind of immersion and ownership deserves consideration, understanding and respect before we tamper with a games for classroom use.

Recently, I attended the “Games For Learning Summit” hosted by the Department of Education and Games For Change.  Keynote, Rafranz Davis delivered this message from her son:

Our students are trying to tell us something. Are we listening?

I wholeheartedly believe that games have a place in the classroom. I even think they can be used effectively as tools when careful consideration is given to the outcomes we seek. Are we using a particular game because it is the best tool for the job, or are we merely trying to engage students by repackaging old curriculum into new boxes?

If we are going to use games in our classrooms, we need to do our homework. We need to take the time to learn about games and what makes playing them special. Doing this will inform our pedagogy and increase our chances of “not wrecking the game“. ~IMHO

 

 

 

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