Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Why The Most Important Question In Game-based Learning Is "Who Will Fund The Game Genome Project?" (Part 2 of 2)

What's Missing From This Picture?

I hate Monopoly.  If there was a time when I liked Monopoly, I can't remember it.  Even today, when I dream of hell it features an endless game of Monopoly played with Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot (Don't ask...).

What if game C in the image above (and also featured prominently in Part 1 of this series) is Monopoly?

All the cool databasing and meeting and organizing in the world aren't going to help me learn if I absolutely hate the game that is supposed to teach me.  Resolving this problem is tricky and it starts with the question, "What is a game?"

I am a big fan of Bernard Suits definition of a game: "Games are a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles."  
Note:  At this stage, it is typically obligatory to write a lengthy discussion about all the other definitions of "game" and how Suits succeeds in part and fails in part...blah, blah, blah.  You can find this sort of stuff anywhere - just Google it.  So, in the interest of time, let's just pretend I have already written this essay (OK, OK, "brilliant essay", if you insist).  Now we can get to the point.  
The key thing that the Suits' definition adds to the discussion of games in the context of learning is that games are voluntary.  Think about it.  If, at some level, the learner is not motivated to play the game by the game itself, it isn't really a game for that learner (kind of like The Hunger Games aren't really games for Katniss Everdeen...).

What Is The Game Genome Project?

If the missing piece from the picture above is the preference of the learner/player, then the question becomes, "How do we determine those preferences?"  To put it another way, if Rock and Country and Classical were insufficient to define musical preferences, why should we think that Role-playing, Collectible Card or First Person Shooter are good enough to define game preferences?

The truth is, we shouldn't.  The Game Genome Project would seek to do to games what the Music Genome Project did to music - break games down into their component parts, validate the relevance of those parts in determining player preferences and then test that system so that we can reliably predict game preferences across learners/players and genres.

Some of this kind of work is already being done, albeit without the focus on education.  Take a look at BoardGameGeek, for example.  BGG is arguably the web's best resource for tabletop games and its advanced search feature allows users to search by hundreds of categories, subcategories and mechanics as well as by number of players and playing time.  

The tens of thousands of amateurs and professionals who have contributed to BGG over the years have done very good work in crafting all these elements of board games but which of these categories actually matter?  And what about video games?  Do any of these categories and subcategories cross over?  

Yes, there is a lot of work to do but imagine if such a system were fully realized.  Teachers could go to one site, input their students preferences and the teacher's learning objectives and a list of games would pop up.  Even more important, a student, faced with a learning challenge could input his or her preferences and the learning objectives and find a list of games that would make the effort not only fruitful but fun.  

The ability to reliably connect learner/player preferences in games to learning objectives in classes across the full spectrum of tabletop and video games would, in turn, transform game-based learning from the pedagogical technique du jour to a lasting  and important part of the educational landscape.

Who Will Fund The Game Genome Project And Why Is This Question So Important?

If I am right about the importance of the Game Genome Project to the future of game-based learning, then who will fund it?

The first possible source is, of course, private investment.  A Pandora-like game recommendation engine makes about as much business sense as Pandora itself.  Pandora, however, let's you listen to music it thinks you will like and then makes money when you buy it (and ads, of course, but that would be true for any website).  

Since most games take longer than 3 minutes to play (or even to download...), it is unclear to me if this business model would work as well (or at all) for games.  More importantly, private investors are unlikely to want to invest in the hard work of tying learning objectives from all of the various curricula to the games.  It is something that only someone with deep pockets and a financial incentive (like an educational publisher?) might be able to attempt.

Government could do this, of course.  It looks like a good NSF or Dept. of Education grant, perhaps.  The military or intelligence community could certainly do it but would be highly likely to focus almost exclusively on a narrow range of skills and games.

Whoever will do it, it will have to be done. Until we are able to connect game to learning objective and learner to game, game-based learning is likely to remain a niche teaching technique, full of unrealized potential.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should shop this Game Genome Project idea around at the major gaming conventions like Origins (already happened earlier this month) and GenCon 2015 (August 5 - 9, 2015 in Indianapolis)?