Four pointers to the chasm between elearning and video game designers
Patrick Dunn has spotted the four big differences in the design principles of those making intranets and elearning platforms on the one hand, and video games on the other:
- E-learning designers believe that people learn through "content". They assume that encountering content will lead people to change their behaviour. Games designers believe that people learn through "experience". They assume that having experiences - doing and feeling things - leads to change in behaviour.
- E-learning designers believe we must be "nice" to our learners in case they go away. They assume that the relationship between the course and the learner is a weak one so that if there's any significant challenge, the learner will give up. Games designers believe that we can challenge people and they'll stick with it. Indeed, it is progressive challenges that form much of the motivation for gamers.
- E-learning designers believe that we learn step by step (hence linearity, page-turning etc.). Game designers believe we absorb lots of things all at once (hence HUDs, complex information screens etc.).
- E-learning designers believe that learning experiences are emotionally neutral (in spite of all that's written about the importance of emotion in learning). Games designers always seek an "angle", an attitude.
You can spot this chasm a mile off. I did when I launched my latest social 'game'.
It's an iPhone app to help people spot how much they're drinking and compare it to the reality of how much their friends are drinking (research shows that people reckon their friends consume more than they actually do, thereby leading to a vicious circle of binge drinking).
Compare the pay-for app I helped produce, You Booze You Looze, to the free National Health Service drink tracking app and the chasm is clear. On the one hand is a quirky, fun, mini-game-based app with a cheeky backstory made by a young successful Scottish game-making company (You Booze's Digital Goldfish, who also produced one of Apple's Top 30 all-time best sellers, Bloons):
Experience? Check. Challenges? Check. Multiple ways in and things to do? Check - when we added the Facebook Connect element at the backend of the game, it started to have real meaning as friends could see what each other were actually consuming (it's generally a lot less than they thought). An attitude? Double check.
On the other hand, the Government-subsidised app from the National Health Service has clearly been developed by, well, not a game designer. It looks like an app version of the Drinkaware website, and the iTunes Store reviews would suggest it has all the amusement of that, too:
All content, no narrative. No form of challenge - it's too easy to use. Only one thing you do - tell it how much you drank last night, with no social element (adding a social element means that the number things you can end up doing heads into the stratosphere). And attitude? It looks as if the committee that designed and approved this killed any attitude the designers may have wanted to inject.
Given the target audience of both apps (game-playing young men and women who drink too much and haven't done anything about it despite Government campaigns about alcohol units, drink driving and other dangers), the game-makers have produced, I believe, a better app that should achieve more. For a similar budget (or less) the great institutions of Government could look to game-makers rather than ad agencies for their next campaigns.
So could educators and intranet makers.
To this, though, I would add that video games designers have been slow in general to pick up on the potential of social gaming, and for the most part educators are still just not interested in it - it's hard enough to convince non-gamers of the benefits of video game use in the classroom without hinting that, God forbid, they can connect users through Facebook. On the other hand, elearning designers picked up on the potential of social-network-like features relatively quickly, producing social worlds and 'bebo-esque' models for interaction and learning, along the lines of, say, Honeycomb (disclosure: I was on the design consultancy team for this).
The chasm is there, but I'd disagree with Patrick: it's not uncrossable. It's also not about gamers and webheads "meeting halfway". Rather , there is a creative opportunity for game-makers and webheads to work together towards new horizons, leaving those chasms back in the decade where they belong.
Pic: Playfish's social game, Pet Society