What makes a Game Worth Playing?

Game-Based Learning is an exciting trend in Education, but what makes a game worth playing in the classroom.  Not all games are created equal; actually many educational games tend to be pretty boring.  I am reminded of the many hours I played my Nintendo game console as a child.  Several games I only played a handful of times, but games like Mario Brother’s and Zelda made my thumbs calloused.  What makes these and other popular games so good?  And are there applications for these good games in education?

As I was going through this week’s material and the idea that video games could have a potential to prepare students better for 21st century than some traditional content focused teaching methods really got me thinking.  In the article “Does Playing World of Goo Facilitate Learning?”,  I found myself agreeing with the scholars that are arguing that “current schools in the United States do not adequately prepare kids for success in the 21st century.” And that “learning in school is still heavily geared toward the acquisition of content, with instruction too often abstract and decontextualized, and thus not suitable for this age of complexity and interconnectedness (Shute, 2007)

After reading the article, I decided to download World of Goo to my iPad and have a go at it.  I loved it!  It definitely got me problem solving and thinking about making the smartest construction.  I really enjoyed how they changed it up every couple of levels and introduced new things.  It reminded me of the game Simple Physics but also Angry Birds.


There are certain things that all great games have in common. “Some of these features include interactivity, immediate and ongoing feedback, adaptive levels of challenge, and complex problems with specific goals (Gee, 2003; Shute & Torres, in press).”   All these things make me think of the aspects of a what is supposed to be happening in the classroom.  Maybe instead of banning gaming in school, we should just let the students play.

Another game we were asked to check out was Temple Run.  I remember deleting this game off of school iPads multiple times, just to see it reappear.  Though I didn’t get the same mental stimulus playing this game as I did from World of Goo, I guess I did do some problem solving as I attempted to figure out the rules.  The problem that I faced was I just wasn’t quick enough to get very far at all before I decided to give up.  I could see how this game could be additive to some.

One really awesome thing that games make us do when we attempt to figure them out, is they let us fail.  We are supposed to fail as we problem solve our way through the puzzle of playing it.  This is something that is still not encouraged in the classroom.  There is still the feeling in classrooms that you must get everything correct; but this is really not the way you learn.  The more that I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that education should be more game-like.

Well-designed games thus have the potential to elicit active and critical thinking and learning skills (e.g., Gee, 2003; Shute et al., in press; Shute, Ventura, Bauer, & Zapata-Rivera, 2009).

After delving into World of Goo, I was curious about the research that was conducted.  Was is actually educational?  They found “that simply playing the game (and even winning the level) does not automatically translate into learning valuable knowledge and skills, especially to the degree, or of the kind, that can be transferred outside of the game setting.”  What if you combined game play with an actual physics lesson that explored building structures?   I think it would be interesting to see if the students understood the concepts better after playing the game.  James Paul Gee in his video Learning with Video Games says that “we’ve handed kids all the manuals without the games,” when he’s talking about education today.  By playing games though,  the complex and confusing manuals became clear.

Minecraft is another phenomenon that has swept the education world by storm.  For the past several years, it’s been the game to play for middle school students.  And many of them have used in in class to create amazing projects.  I really enjoyed watching the movie of the history of Mojang.  Minecraft is so successful because it’s simple enough to understand and start playing, it’s social and it allows you to be extremely creative.  I badly want to learn more about it and how to best implement it in the classroom.  The article on the Minecraft digestive system was great.  There are so many applications for it in the classroom.  Hopefully one of my teachers will volunteer to try a project out with Minecraft EDU soon.