I thought it deserved to be read more widely, and she graciously agreed to let me reprint it as a separate blog post.
For those readers who might not be familiar with Kathy, here’s a short bio:
Former game designer (Virgin, MGM), was a master trainer at Sun Microsystems (training the trainers), taught new media studies and interaction design at UCLA Extension, and created the Head First learning series for O’Reilly Media. Her books are currently the top-two longest-running technology bestsellers on Amazon, with more than a million copies in print alone. She believes the success of her books is due to applying game design principles to learning, and that gamification today has nothing to do with game design.
Here is her comment:
I like to categorize areas that can/might be gamification into at least three categories:
1. Probably “safe” to gamify 2. Possibly OK to gamify (depending on what form of gamification) 3. Probably dangerous to gamify (because of the side-effects)
This all assumes gamification as opposed actual (including “serious”) games, where most gamification is based entirely around externally-regulated extrinsic rewards.
In the “probably safe” category, anything that is a rote, low-cognitively challenging, low-creativity, NON-enjoyable task carries little danger of demotivation since there is nothing intrinsically pleasurable. However, there are other potential side-effects including what happens when you REMOVE the reward system later, or what happens if your reward system becomes *too* engaging and overwhelms the otherwise intrinsically rewarding things that might have emerged *around* this initially low-enjoyment task.
(so I guess that means I put even “probably safe” things in a “but be careful” context)
Most health compliance and physical exercise falls into the “probably safe” category as well.
Also, virtually any extrinsic reward system can be used somewhat safely as long as the rewards are NOT perceived by the receiver’s brain as “the reason I am doing the behavior”. This is a tricky one since it all happens below the level of conscious awareness. But if a reward is given randomly or more importantly — as a form of recognition rather than as a DO X AND EARN Y, then it serves a different function and is far less harmful. But most gamification today IS of the form DO X AND EARN Y. Another misconception people have is that the damage occurs only if Y (the reward) is a “tangible thing”, but the form of reward makes little difference. It is the “externally-regulated” part that causes problems, so status, peer pressure, etc. are all potentially damaging, according to the hundreds of studies loosely grouped under Self Determination Theory.
In the NEVER safe category, I would put most forms of learning and engaging including collaborating, creativity, reading, etc. These are the areas of gamification I find the most disturbing, though those who want to gamify are well-intentioned. And unfortunately, “engagement” can look promising once gamification (or any incentive system) is used, just as slot machines or any version of operant conditioning using positive reinforcement can lead to increased activity. But at a risk we should NEVER take.
The studies are both counter-intuitive and disturbing. The monkeys that enjoyed playing with wooden puzzles until given their favorite treat reward for solving the puzzles, at which time their puzzle-solving diminished. The kids given ribbons for their drawings then showed less interest in drawing. The writers shown a list of possible external reasons for writing immediately wrote less complex and interesting poems than those shown a list of intrinsically-rewarding reasons for writing. And on and on and on and on. Animals, humans, children, adults, across wide-ranging domains and in studies conducted by dozens of independent researchers.
I “get” the desire to believe in the power of “incenting behavior we want”, and especially when it comes to learning. But it is yet another example of short-term gains at a long-term risk. Gamification proponents believe they are taking the “elements of games” and applying them outside of games, but they are not. They are taking mechanics, and not the heart of what makes an actual game (or other intrinsically rewarding experience) valuable and compelling. Educators COULD learn from game designers, but game designers have essentially learned from good *coaches*… it is really about balancing challenges with increased knowledge and skill, facilitated by high-quality timely feedback.
If educators want to learn from game designers, they should use the parts of games that matter and leave the surface mechanics behind. Otherwise, we end up with mechanical behaviors, just as Skinner’s pigeons. They used positive reinforcement to do very complex-seeming behaviors, but in the end were nothing more than a long series of extremely simple behaviors chained into a sequence that only LOOKED complex.
I know there has been a fair amount of online discussion going on about using “gamification” in schools, but I haven’t really been keeping on top of it. Today, though, I read an interesting article in the San Francisco Chronicle headlined Jury out on Zamzee, other forms of ‘gamification.’ Here’s an excerpt (but it’s definitely worth reading the entire article):
While gamification is a relatively new concept, the science of human motivation is not. And critics of the gamification concept – and even proponents who feel the concepts are misapplied – say many examples so far fundamentally misunderstand what drives behavior.
The most basic mistake is thinking that people play games for external rewards like points and badges, whereas in fact people play games because games are intrinsically fun or rewarding. The points are just a way of keeping score, an almost incidental add-on to the process. Sudoku has no points, for instance, but that hasn’t stopped millions from playing.
“Actual games and gamification are at complete opposite poles on the motivation continuum,” said Kathy Sierra, a writer and game developer.
This isn’t a big problem when rewards and points are applied to rote work, like chores or brushing your teeth. After all, there’s little worry of making those things less engaging.
But Dan Pink, the author of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” has pointed out that studies show that when the task rises to the level of even rudimentary cognitive skills – anything above mechanical tasks – incentives start to work in reverse. Greater rewards – including higher pay – lead to poorer performance with things like creative tasks.
This de-motivation flies in the face of economic theory, and yet the findings have been remarkably consistent, Pink and others say.
Another common misconception is that sparking competition – by using things like workplace leader boards to increase productivity – leads to long-term improvements. In fact, interest tends to trail off quickly, particularly for those who realize they’re not in the running to win, said Jane McGonigal, a renowned game designer and author of “Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.”
It seems to me that learning games certainly have a role in schools, but I’m not so sure about “gamification.” What do you think — are there ways to incorporate “gamification” without hurting intrinsic motivation?
I’ve previous posted about “Turn-O-Phrase,” a game where you are shown images that give hints to common English phrases, and you need to identify that words that would go along with them. You can also get hints. I had two concerns about the game, though — one, in order to play it, you had to login with a Facebook or Twitter account (and that was going to rule out having students play it at schools where those sites were blocked) and, two, users weren’t able to create their phrases and turn them into games.
Well, Ilya Bagrak, the site’s creator, has now responded to both of those concerns. As of today, users can create an account only using their email, and players can also create their own phrases. Creation couldn’t be made easier — think of a phrase, type the words in, representative images automatically appear, and pick which ones you want as clues — you’re done!
Flight To Freedom is a new online game about the Underground Railroad that came online today. You have to register to play (it’s easy to do so), and it’s designed in the “choose your own adventure” genre.
It’s part of Mission US, which is funded by the Corporation For Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment For The Humanities.
I’ve previously written about how I use online video games as a language-development activity for my ELL students. Here are two new games, along with links to their walkthroughs (instructions on how to complete the game), that look good. Be sure to click “English” on both of them:
The websites on this list were not designed with education in mind, but which can easily be used for learning purposes — particularly, though not exclusively, for English language development. I only hope that creators of “educational” content can learn from the qualities that make these sites so engaging.
Five thousand people from Grand Rapids, Michigan came together to create what Roger Ebert has called “the greatest music video ever made.” And it is, indeed, pretty amazing. It was shot in one take. Even though the song’s lyrics are probably not the best for English Language Learners, the video itself would be a lot of fun.
Here’s a video of The Great Escape — Panda style:
This is a video of Remi Gaillard, known as France’s greatest prankster:
Luke Burrage juggles around the world in this clip:
Check out this Stop-motion animation and drumstick music video:
How about this surfing bulldog:
Show this next video, but only if you don’t think your students will be inspired to try some of the stunts themselves!
“Bridge” is a short and delightful animation that is perfect to show English Language Learners (in fact, to any students) and then have them write and discuss it. It’s a great opportunity for them to literally describe what they see, plus incorporating the messages of the film. As its creator says:
Bridge is a story about four animal characters trying to cross a bridge, but ending up as obstacles to one another in the process. The moral behind this story revolves around how there are often disagreements or competing paths in life, and the possible results of pride, obstinance, and compromise.
Smurf Yourself lets you choose and dress a Smurf, record it saying something, and then send or post it on blog or website. No registration is required. It’s a fun and simple way for students to practice their English.
Draw a Stickman is an amazing adventure where you…draw a stick and he comes to life. You’re given instructions about what to draw and when, and then the stickman uses what you have drawn. It’s an excellent language learning opportunity for ELL’s and fun for everybody. You can also write your own message that shows at the end of the activity.
There are many “adventure” and “escape the room” online video games that, at first glance, might not appear to have much educational value. However, if you look a little closer, a number of them can be a gold mine for engaging language-development activities. Many “gamers” on the web create what are called “walkthroughs” for these games — written step by step instructions on how to “beat” them. Teachers can divide students into pairs, give them copies of walkthrough, and you’re unlikely to find another English reading and speaking where you will find more engagement. Though class “winners” might be the first five pairs to get through the entire game, you’ll find that students, particularly boys, will love getting ahead of others and then stop to help their classmates so they can show off their video game-playing prowess.
I wrote an article a few years ago about using these games with students, and I’ve posted about quite a few of them over the years, and thought it would be useful to bring them together into one list. I’ve only included ones here that I believe have a decent chance of not being blocked by school content filters.
Here are The Best “Fun” Online Video Games For English Language Development:
The same creators of the last game also have an excellent seventeen part series of games called Esklavos, several which have come out in the past year. You can find the Walkthroughs to the series here. That same Walkthrough page also has links to all the games, but because I think it’s more likely that the site featuring the walkthroughs will be blocked by school content filters, I’m going to list direct links to all the games here (except for the first one, which is in Spanish only):
I’ve written extensively about how I use online video games with English Language Learners. They’re great language-development activities when students play them by following “walkthroughs” (instructions on how to “win”). Here are four new ones, along with their walkthroughs:
The BBC has recently added some new games to their Schools website. They’re good, but I wouldn’t necessarily say they are their best, so I won’t be adding them to any of my “The Best…” lists. They do provide some audio for the text, though, so they could also be engaging to English Language Learners:
Draw a Stickman is an amazing adventure where you…draw a stick and he comes to life. You’re given instructions about what to draw and when, and then the stickman uses what you have drawn. It’s an excellent language learning opportunity for ELL’s and fun for everybody.