[ #gbl10 ]: Game-Based Living: the core of new media literacies [Part 1]
[A summary of my Game-Based Learning talk, with all the bits that I didn't manage to cover in 18 short minutes]
Gaming affects and infects so much of our lives to the extent many of us don't recognise its beneficial effects any more. It's no surprise that educators need to push a "games-based learning" agenda just to help education communities and leaders start to realise some of the untapped potential that comes when we look at games from the point of view of creating systemic changes in learning and learning spaces.
For a start games seem to raise our expectations from the moment we launch them, like a Hollywood blockbuster, and then engage us for as long, sometimes longer. I'll long remember the day I returned from a day teaching to find my wife, newly adorned with a copy of the Sims, still in pyjamas and rather hungry - she'd been too busy feeding, washing and dressing her virtual friends to do any of the above to herself. Or my mother, who, on a stay over with us could still be found at 2am fighting Eastern European-type terrorists in Call of Duty.
The fact is that the opening of a game lets us know that we're in for as much joy as the drah-drah, drah-drah of the 20th Century Fox drums:
Challenge is different from fun
Games also manage to help us achieve two things that are also essential for learning. Firstly, we get quite quickly into a sense of flow where, like my wife playing Sims, we lose track of time around us and are absorbed into in-game time. Secondly, we're provided with challenges that are, it seems, perfectly pitched at our zone of proximal development - not quite too hard to understand, not quite too easy to make them boring.The result of these three factors - raised expectation, flow and Vygotskyism - is a level and intensity of engagement with content that film, TV, books, even live football matches fail to achieve to quite the same level. I'll take suggestions of any of the above that achieve the emotion of a video-game for 20 straight minutes - about the least amount of time we spend on one.
Take a look at the Toledano pictures, above, that illustrate what I mean.
But these faces are not just exhibiting 'fun', and in some cases would suggest the opposite. Games offer more than just fun, and for leaders this is vital to understand. It might even be worth stressing that fun is of secondary importance of all to the notion that games challenge in ways traditional linear media (from feature films to textbooks to PowerPoint presentations) generally do not at such regularity with such power and impact.
Gaming as part of a wider media literacy
Gaming is not just about offering challenge, which nearly always indicates learning. Gaming, and specifically play, make up a large part of our understanding of media literacy, and engaging the senses on more fronts would, I'd like to suggest, make for some fascinating transmedia learning experiences.A good model to think about where gaming fits into the new media literacies our youngsters (and their parents and teachers) need are Henry Jenkins' New Media Literacies. They can be summed up thus:
- Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
- Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
- Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
- Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
- Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
- Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
- Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
- Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
- Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
- Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
- Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.
Some games make no attempt to teach our youngsters about the wider connected world, being more about skills development in a particular (subject-focused area) e.g. Dr Kawashima's Brain Training. But generally, video games are superb at hitting a lot of these new media literacy bases, beyond the obvious ones of play, simulation and multitasking. In this paragraph from a stream of enthusiastic consciousness about game-based learning in a Scottish nursery/kindergarten room, we see that the game itself is secondary to game-inspired activity, and this is how games tend to hit so many of our literacies framework:
Caring for goldfish in playrooms, bringing in fish from fish counters on ice and investigating these, children’s drawings and paintings inspired by pet pictures by artists such as Monet and Andy Warhol, visits to Pet shops, visitors in to nursery linked to pets, photographs by children of their own pets and home links, use of video camera and digital camera by children in playroom, pet corner made and designed by children where they dress up as pets to be sold, use money etc etc, sensory area with linked activities, emergent writing and mark making at all areas in the nursery where the children record what they are doing, the list goes on.
This is why an over-emphasis on 'play' as a reason to harness the potential of gaming could be unhelpful in understanding why games are so powerful as learning contexts or tools; there's a lot more than play involved in effective learning that has gaming at its core or point of inspiration.
Therefore, to make sure we can stretch the literacies of our youngsters we, as teachers, might think about how we shape the social and learning environment in our classrooms and online to start filling in some gaps.
Why bother learning new media literacies in the first place?
Good question, with an easy answer. The creative industries are the fastest growing and already significantly large sector in most of the Western world, and increasingly in the Far East, too. In South America it has arguably been the profession of choice for many years, creating a world-class advertising and marketing industry throughout the continent.
Yet, I feel, the largest differential in this set of industries, spanning fashion to design to technology to games manufacture to filmmaking, will not be the cost of doing business - quality counts above price for the products and services of these industries, and outsourcing is generally done to highly paid niche experts, not to lowly/under-paid mechanical Turks on the other side of the planet. The differential factor will be the ability of its practitioners, accounting for a pace of growth twice that of the rest of the British economy, to continually out-smart competitors with a global understanding of these wide skills bases. Filmmakers have to understand the potential of gaming, game-manufacturers will have to understand how data sets and social networks can make their experiences ever more rich and realistic, fashion designers will have to understand how core technology can make their clothing better or help sell it more effectively.
Therefore, the largest differentiator is possessing 'hybrid talents'. Hybrid talents are ones that understand the potential of other sectors' work, but also where it fits within a larger systemic understanding of how users/customers/learners operate within a complex set of literacies. Without this latter understanding, how are we going to produce media that is both challenging while not being out of the user's depth, and how are users of that media (learners or customers) going to be able to understand ever more complex games and narratives of the kind Janet Murray describes in the brilliant Hamlet on the Holodeck?
This is a genuine challenge. In the past two years I've seen that the success ratio for digital media to gain investment is about 1.5%. That is, for every 250 ideas generated by people only 4 manage to bring that understanding of the wider digital ecology in which they will survive. A lack of hybrid talent means most people lose out, it means our creative industries lose out.
Creating games that fit in the wider media ecology
Games that achieve this understanding of the wider digital ecology meet with phenomenal success. While most of the Routes Game flash minigames played in isolation through Miniclip receive huge numbers of plays, the repeat engagement with the subject matter remains far less than when those same games are played embedded within the context of a long-line narrative, community challenges and a murder mystery.
Sneeze, pictured, a game designed to understand the spread of disease, is an example of this phenomenon, having received over 15m plays alone.
Similarly, traditional linear movies are increasingly using games as a means not just to market the film but to add to the experience of watching the film. Last year's Sherlock Holmes release was accompanied by an online flash game 221b.sh.
The agency who created this were at pains to make sure that the film/brand of Sherlock Holmes would "be in a better state after their work than when they picked it up". That is, the game they produced had to extend the storytelling in ways linear film could not. If you take one of the many comments of players/viewers of the film, they succeeded:
Why games & playfulness are particularly good at changing behaviour
If you were to only read the red-tops you'd believe that the only behavioural change that games can engender was one of feral violence and sleep deprivation. Looking closer, though, we can see how the ingredients of good games can work in the real world, by making 'fun', engaging and even challenging acts as simple as choosing to take the stairs instead of the escalator:
Adding play to signage is more likely to achieve the desired result, too (picture, right). Across the UK we see anti-speeding signs that achieve results not by telling us off, or snapping us and punishing us at a time long after the offense, but by smiling or "looking sad" when you speed. The results of this playfulness have been disproportionately more successful than punitive measures.
Likewise, a gaming philosophy underpins our attitudes towards the punishment for speeding. In the UK, it is nearly a machismo statement to claim you have earned three or six points on your licence. In Italy, where any measures to reduce machismo in driving will be used to great effect, you start off with 12 points and then lose them as you speed or break the law in other ways.
More directly, we see gaming elements at play in social apps designed to inform, educate and spread around the web, creating more change in habits - MirrorMe is a good example of this.