Are Learning Games More Like Movies or Like Sports?

So, this came from a comment I made on Simon Bostock’s post Disappointment and Dysludia, and it’s something that I’m curious about.

So are educational games movies or sports? By that, I mean: everybody likes movies (except for a tiny fringe that I am not going to worry about designing for). They may like different types of movies, but everybody has a movie of some kind that they like.

Or are they like sports, which a big section of the population loves, a decent number are indifferent to, and a not-insubstantial minority actively dislike*?

Gamers (with a capital G) are such a self-selecting population that it’s hard to tell what can be extrapolated from their experience to a broader population. I *think* games are more movies than sports, but not all the way (there’s no learning curve to a movie), but I do think there’s a varying degree of tolerance for the hard fun that makes gameplay so compelling.

This is a concern for learning games, because we want the engagement that gameplay can provide, but that engagement is usually with people who are choosing to play the games, but learning games aren’t always a choice (required training, critical learning topics).

I’m listening to a recent Jesse Schell Talk called Visions of the Gamepocalypse:

The talk made me think more about this question, particularly when he talked about Nintendo’s creation of the Wii.

He points out that many of the product conversations are about the technology – how can we use Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality / Haptic Feedback / Social Media / Motion Sensing / Immersive 3D?

But he talks about the fact that the Wii controller – arguably the biggest innovation in gaming consoles in decades, didn’t happen because Nintendo asked “What can we do with this nifty motion sensing technology?”

The question they did ask was “Why aren’t people playing more games?”

The answer they got was that basically the controller was too complicated to learn (unless you were the prototypical teenage-boy-gamer with the time and motivation to spend hundreds of hours developing your muscle memory to kill at Tony Hawke’s Skater Pro 2X).

So, the Wii wasn’t about a cool way to use the technology, but rather a way to provide a game controller that your grandmother could pick up and be using with a workable degree of competence in minutes, rather than hours, days or weeks.  This argues that the gaminess isn’t the problem, but rather the design and interface.

So, here are the questions I have:

  • Can we reasonably expect any audience (insurance adjusters, surgeons, frequent flyer mile credit card holders, middle school teachers, etc.) to enjoy learning games?
  • Is the difficulty in the focus on video games? Maybe video games are sports, but games (of any kind) are movies?
  • Is it okay to make people uncomfortable for their own good? A timer is a great way to raise the performance stakes, increasing tension and attention, but could be really frustrating if some of the people in your audience struggle with the pace required.

What’s your take?

(*okay, so I don’t really know that the church lady dislikes sports, but that’s what comes up when you search on “disdainful old lady”).

3 thoughts on “Are Learning Games More Like Movies or Like Sports?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Are Learning Games More Like Movies or Like Sports? « The Usable Learning Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. You’re right, this is a huge question.

    To take your list:
    Insurance Adjustors (and actuaries/accountant types) love games. Every time they plug numbers into a spreadsheet and watch the changes in the figures cascade across the cells, they’re basically playing a game.

    Surgeons love games. If you spend millions on giving them haptic feedback and realistic situations.

    Anybody active in any kind of loyalty card scheme loves games.

    Teachers are trickier. I was tempted to come up with some neat reasons why teachers do, in fact, love games. But I’m not sure they do (not because they’re teachers, but because they’re people and there are so many kinds).

    But I will say I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t love games in some way, shape or form – quizzes, puzzles etc (And, secretly, I would never hire *anybody* for a learning job if they couldn’t demonstrate a love of play…)

    I think the key to your questions – which I must say has had me stumped for a while now – is that games are a two-sided market made up of players and designers (as well as spectators). There must be some role for everybody in games-based learning, whether as player, designer, spectator (what comes next…?) or referee. Perhaps we’re using the wrong schema for games? Learning profs are locked into a Jeopardy mental model when we should be thinking in terms of (American) football, with all its specialised teams?

    Last thing, totally unrelated: board game remix.

    Grab a ton of cheap games (complete/incomplete, it doesn’t matter) from your local thrift shop. Give random items and equipment from random games to teams, who then have to ‘remix’ the games and create new ones.

  3. My interest (as a hobby and as a way to engage learners) has been improvisational theater. Simon’s comment about games having players and designers, but also spectators got me thinking about how using theater or improv games usually comes two different ways. You can have the learners participate in an improvisational theater game and therefore have an experience. You can also have the learner watch improv professionals act out situations and then have the learners discuss. With this type of learning it seems to me that it depends how you use it as to whether it’s more like movies or sports.

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