Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How Important is Gameplay for Educational Games, Anyway?

Gameplay — interacting with a game via its mechanics to influence the outcome of a game challenge — is part of the essence of what a game is.  That players enjoy mastering game play is something I've taken for granted, but a recent article has forced me to take another look, particularly in the context of educational games.

Yotsuba & Wii
Yotsuba & Wii / kelvin255

Richard Terrell of Critical-Gaming Network argues that modern gamers aren't really into game play.  His argument spans several linked articles and is worth the read on its own, but his bottom line is this:
Complexities are a necessary to achieve a wide range of gameplay experiences; such complexities must be learned by the player to build skills in order to have control or influence over the usually increasingly difficult gameplay outcomes; and learning is a slow, self reflective, and often repetitive process. These premises make up the argument that states, the core of what makes video games unique and interesting (complexity, gameplay, interactivity, and agency) are at odds with what many people find fun and entertaining.
My understanding is that he is saying learning is slow and difficult, so players would probably rather avoid having to do too much of it.

But, wait, what about Raph Koster's theory of fun? He says we humans are built to look for patterns and actually enjoy learning new ones.  All games are like edutainment, because we are always learning when we play them.  Even if it's just aiming and shooting things, or exploration, or spatial relationships, people find learning, and therefore games, fun.  However, once we know the patterns, the thrill is gone.  With mastery comes boredom.

So, according to Koster's theory, we need games that have more ways to learn for them to keep being fun.  But Terrell says that learning can be long and hard, and that many players aren't actually into that.

I'm not sure what to think of this disparity yet, but more thought may help us understand why so many educational games just aren't very good.


KirbyKid said...

Thanks for the mention. I'm glad my writing has influenced you to take another look at this subject. If there's anything I can do to answer any more questions you may have, just let me know. I'll check out more of your site in the meantime.

Gail Carmichael said...

Will do - thanks for stopping by! (I just found your site recently, too, and will be checking more of it out the next little while.)

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