This is the second of three blog posts that discuss the idea of educational games, looking at the choices behind this project’s educational game. The first post can be found here

Previously I wrote about the relationship between learning and play, building off of early game theory and quick relationships to education. As I consider designing a game the teaches an educational concept, or is focused on an informative piece over an entertainment piece, it becomes important that I start situating myself around the concept of educational games.

The goal of educational games are to function as learning and teaching tools. If we are viewing the game as a transmissive, experiential, system for players to engage with, then it becomes important to frame the learning/transmission to players. Referencing back to my undergraduate work in education, I started to think about the idea of constructivism, which connects knowledge acquisition to experiences. Building further from this comes ideas around inquiry-based learning, and subversive teaching practice.

Starting with an inquiry approach to learning, knowledge is constructed through experiential questioning. In other words, inquiry based learning, focuses on students asking the questions that directs how they gather knowledge. The teacher becomes a guide and facilitator in these spaces, allowing student curiosity to connect and establish knowledge. 

a teacher is that rare individual who coaxes the existing knowledge systems of his students out of hiding, drags every last tentacle of the monster from the depths into broad daylight, hoses off the slime, wrestles it to the ground when it puts up a fight, and finally gives it a heart transplant. That’s subversion. That’s teaching.”

Postman & Weingartner, 1971

Moving from this, I came across the idea of subversive teaching where,  “a teacher is that rare individual who coaxes the existing knowledge systems of his students out of hiding, drags every last tentacle of the monster from the depths into broad daylight, hoses off the slime, wrestles it to the ground when it puts up a fight, and finally gives it a heart transplant. That’s subversion. That’s teaching.” (Postman & Weingartner, 1971). I love this quote for the visuals representation of inquiry and shifted teaching dynamics. When thinking about Escape Rooms, this quote amplifies the educational strengths of the game genre. Not only is the genre subversive to traditional teaching method, both as a game, and a space that removes teachers as point of knowledge transmission. Games provide agency, and the act of play (collaborative or alone) invites players to connect their own knowledge with the game material as they work through the narrative.

“The inquiry environment stresses that learning is happening in itself.” (Postman & Weingartner, 1971 p. 29), which allows the theatrical set of escape games invite learners deeper into the material. Educational games have historically struggled to be engaging for players, which is typically blamed on a lack of originality (Jenkins and Hinrichs, 2003). Many educational games function as poor replications of existing entertainment games, making their experience always lackluster to players. This is understood as edutainment. We need to move past that, games need to focus on developing novel experiences, refreshing takes on existing games and genres. The nature of educational games already restricts them around a specific concept/activity in design, making their connection to existing genres even more stringent in the freedom that designers have. It is important for educational games to imagine multiple ways they can talk about the issue, and use that to develop a unique experience. The idea of subversive teaching is still relatively niche and extremely hard for educators to do properly, but offers a very distinct form of learning which extends beyond the classroom.

An example of an edutainment game

Praxis Games:

Trying to connect these ideas further I started exploring a range of literature on educational or serious game genres. While the idea of persuasive and serious games are a starting point, their argument that games are trying to inform players of something was too general. Social impact games, and games for change are interesting concepts and have been applied to education, but are better suited for games that address specific community or social issues. Around design, I found the term praxis games to be a helpful term in conceptualizing serious design. Wilcox frames praxis games as, “games, understood as designed experiences, can play a prominent role in this process by transforming the cognitive labor involved in knowledge acquisition into an act of situated praxis. “ (Wilcox 2019, p. 165). Subsequently, he defines praxis games as  “games designed for players to enact, embody, or realize a theory, lesson, or skill.” (Wilcox, 2019, p. 158). 

Praxis games focus on ways that educational ideas can be presented within the games framework, which meshes directly with notions of subversive teaching. The idea of having players encounter, and interact with issues through the games entire framework, expands the educational potential of games beyond simple concepts and processes. Embedding ideas into the gameplay and environment causes players to come across and wrestle with them in subversive ways. The space of the game can guide players into a conversation, where their interaction with educational material is not always immediately apparent, engaging them in an experience that existing knowledge, abilities and inquiry are needed to solve. Presenting ideas in all aspects of the game, and designing specifically around a subversive experience allows players to challenge their own ideas and others as they play. Recognizing games as subversive and inquiry focused tools, and connecting that to the notion of praxis in design, reinforces the educational potential of the escape game genre.

References: 

Jenkins, Henry, and Randy Hinrichs. 2003. “Games to Teach.” http://icampus.mit.edu/ projects/project/?pname=GamesToTeach.

Postman, P. N., & Weingartner, C. (1971). Teaching As a Subversive Activity. Dell Publishing Company.

Wilcox, S. (2019). Praxis Games: A Design Philosophy for Mobilizing Knowledge through Play. American Journal of Play; Rochester, 11(2), 156–182.

Other reading:

Constructivist teaching – McLeod, S. A. (2019, July 17). Constructivism as a theory for teaching and learning. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/constructivism.html 

Inquiry teaching – http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/CBS_InquiryBased.pdf 

Social Impact games –  LaPensée, E. (2014). Survivance Among Social Impact Games. Loading…, 8(13). Retrieved from http://journals.sfu.ca/loading/index.php/loading/article/view/141

Persuasive Games – Bogost, I. (2010). Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

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