This is one of three blog posts that discuss the idea of educational games, looking at the choices behind this project’s educational game. 

Any of my friends in education will be familiar with the growing buzzwords or game-based learning, play based learning or gamification. The idea of educational games, is not new, but their formalization within education is becoming increasingly popular, especially in primary grades. I still remember typing games, spelling games, and the legendary Oregon trail, but the link between games and education is almost as long as the field of study. 

Photo by Markus Spiske 

Johan Huizinga, one of the first scholars to write about games, connects games as a way in which we learn about the world around us. Games provided a space for individuals to “playfully” interact and discover their own abilities and parts other world around them (Huizinga, 1955). Huizinga’s theory laid the groundwork on the concept of the  ‘magic circle’, suggesting that games occur in a “consecrated spot” that holds special rules (Huizinga, 1955, p.10). From an educational standpoint, this magic circle can provide ‘safe’ or specifically created spaces to explore an idea in further deal. While the notion of the magic circle and games has fallen out of favour within games literature for a range of issues in how it frames the game and play experience, it is still somewhat useful when thinking about educational game design. Games that rely heavily on environmental pieces can create ‘worlds’ or spaces where participants can engage with content. Designers can frame the space to target/represent specific issues, ideas or partial experiences bringing players into a distinct form of interaction with content. However, it is critical to recognize that the game space does not stand alone. The lines of the magic circle are translucent, allowing players to bring their own ideas, opinions, experiences, emotions and relationships into a game space. It is this specific interaction that makes games such a valuable tool for learning.

From my past experience working on an escape room about older adult mistreatment, the project found that many participants would discuss about their personal connections or knowledge to the material. The personal knowledge and connections that players brought to the game, making me question how games might be able to facilitate conversation, knowledge dissemination, and potential data gathering. Now, I want to bring this into the design, using the game to engage players with their own experiences/knowledge and relate it to the play contexts. 

Games involve a series of inputs and outputs from players. In educational games, those outputs focus on presenting specific ideas/concepts or ideas, or can be in direct response to players practicing an educational task, such as a math game providing a reward for a student solving a problem.  Educational games can function as assessment tools, and information sharing tools. Assessment focuses on the players existing skills and knowledge reinforcing and checking current ability, while information sharing games focus on imparting new knowledge and ideas to players (Grace, 2019). While games within education (sometimes given the title edutainment games) have historically favoured one of these, almost all games mix the two. Players learn about a game world or interface, while practicing their skills and competencies within the game. 

While I will spend more time in a later post discussing escape rooms as a design genre, and their role within the field of educational games, my project’s current focus has been around the information of the game. I want players to engage in the game to learn about an issue, however, I am interested in the game providing outputs similar to an interview format. More specifically, the game presents a scenario, space, or context that encourages players to discover through play. In this process, players are encouraged to share their thoughts, and provide feedback based on their knowledge and experience. Most importantly, immediately after completion, players are invited to a debrief where a semi-structured interview format will build off of the scenario and knowledge recounted by the game.  

The idea of a games inputs and outputs provides potential to have players provide personal input, which can be recorded and have unique outputs returned. While this does lead to some concerns of bias, as players might be influenced by the game experience to respond in ways potentially counter to their own ideas, the games framework is curated to lay the groundwork for a conversation. As players engage with the game they will be presented with a specific issue, which, when revisited after the game, will lead to further questions about their own understanding and experience around these issues.  In this case, presenting the issue of digital personalization and subsequently trust, will hopefully engage players in reflective post game practice on their own media habits and digital trustworthiness. This project studies the curation of an educational analog game around digital issues, but also further explores the possibility of gameplay and debrief as a research methodology. In the next post, I hope to further justify how an escape game helps fit this hypothesis by further exploring educational games, and design processes.

References:

Gillin, J. L., & Huizinga, J. (1951). Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. American Sociological Review, 16(2), 274. https://doi.org/10.2307/2087716

Grace, L. (2019). Doing Things with Games: Social Impact Through Play (1 edition). Boca Raton, FL: Routledge.

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