I’ve just wrapped up my time at UTS (thanks to all who have taken the time to read one of my blogs) and so I’d like to leave you with one last idea tied to something I’m very passionate about. It came back into my head while listening to Kylie Readman discussing learner-centred design in her keynote at the 2022 Learning and Teaching Forum. I’ve written a collection about applying the methods of human centred design to teaching so here I’m going to take you a little further afield.

Ultimately where I want to take you to over two posts is a key question:

What would your content look like as an experience? Then what would that be like one step backwards?

To get to this destination we first need to stop in at digital games and gamification. 

Gamification and learning from digital games

I’ve alluded a couple of times in my previous posts to the fact that I think gamification is a terrible concept, and the worst part of it is that it has completely poisoned people to an amazing idea hiding behind it.

Gamification emerged in around 2010 as a way to add engagement and change behaviours in a range of different spheres (education, training, business, etc) by borrowing from video games. As a medium, games are known for being able to create high levels of engagement and traction.

The idea itself makes a lot of sense. Digital games give you the chance to live and learn in exciting otherworlds and narratives, interact with other people from around the world, be part of vibrant cultures which span the globe; build, create and challenge yourself, have the experience of being people you wouldn’t get to otherwise and feel a new range of emotions as that person.

So what did the gamifiers actually adopt in their attempts to borrow from this rich tapestry of interaction? 

Points. Points and badges. Some of the most mundane elements of these digital experiences.

Ian Bogost does the best job of highlighting why gamification is purely wonderful marketing spin. He highlights how -ifying is a great snake oil as it can be said to fix any number of issues in any number of ways without attending to the context or real issues. So in the end while people were advertising the merits of gamifying a system, in reality no one knew what to do. Very few of the people who were tasked with these -ifying scenarios were game designers or actually knew anything about the collected features that make digital game experiences enjoyable.

Ok, so then what is the idea that gamification has obfuscated and poisoned? You’ve probably guessed it by now, but it is the idea of borrowing from games, and borrowing the many more things they have to offer over and beyond mere points and badges.

We have much to learn from digital game experiences

There have been a bunch of times where a company will promote, or someone will tell me about, something they have made as part of their learning experience that they think is really innovative. But looking at them I can’t help thinking to myself how this was a standard practice in game design more than 20 years ago. 

In learning experience design we force ourselves to remake the wheel over and over again because digital games are not thought of as legitimate explorations in experience design, but rather something fun on the side that people do when they want to relax. Game designers have had a very long time to work on the sort of problems we are grappling with right now in a place where they had no option but to be human centred. Games that aren’t human-centred aren’t enjoyable, won’t be bought and played and are unsuccessful.  

Ultimately, I’d argue that digital games are much better at taking into account the nature of the whole human, their emotions, values, desires, fears and fantasies. In learning design we often still treat people as one dimensional recipients without all these messy features that don’t seem to be connected to the transmission of the content that we have in front of us.

Tune in next time

So next time we get into the nuts and bolts and look at how you can actually use some of the valuable attributes of game design and how these take us back to that core question.

Feature image by shark ovski.

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