The Lure of Video Games

Wordle -- Video Game Elements

The Seduction Secrets of Video Game Designers is a news article that appeared in the Guardian last May. This article describes the features of video games that tend to hook us. Looking at these elements with an attention to the needs of students can help us build educational games that are just as satisfying and addictive.

As I read the article, I made notes about the elements described. The Wordle shown at the right was made from my notes. The size of a word indicates how often it appears. I love using Wordle. It helps me see, very graphically, what I found most important or compelling.

The element that I mentioned the most in my notes was “feedback”. Video games provide feedback in many ways. And, as described in this article, the feedback is disproportionate to the action. You get rainbows and fireworks for hitting a target. It’s like a gold star on steriods. One game I play tells me how wonderful I am for identifying 4-letter words in a jumble of letters. The praise ramps up as the number of letters I use in a word increases. I’m “PHENOMENAL” when I identify a 6-letter word. Someone in the same room as me hearing the audio for this game would go nuts at the repetitive nature of the feedback. But for me, the player, I’m getting the kudos I deserve because, face it, finding a 6-letter word is akin to saving a life! 😉

“Failure” is another big word in my Wordle. Video games do not judge, but they do give feedback when a player fails. If that feedback is entertaining, even failing can become an enjoyable element of the game. Some games have even (and now I’m beginning to realize why “even” is such a large word in my Wordle) created an option for players to fail in spectacular ways.

In digital education products I’ve worked on, we’ve learned to make failure a non-spectacular event. We have found that students enjoy failing if the feedback we provide is funny or entertaining in some way. But we are always sure to make feedback non-judgmental.

“Environment” is an interesting element of video games. Players are attracted to environments that provide what they are missing in the real world–a place where they can be themselves, fail without judgement, be recognized for their accomplishments, be independent and in control. Some of the educational programs that allow students to work at their own pace contain these elements. Even though they are not games and do not have the excitement and addictive quality of games, I think they are still attractive students and motivate students to do more than they would in a regular class setting because of these environmental elements.

Layering a few more features on to the environment that gives the student more control over their own learning will contribute to a feeling of “ownership” and “autonomy”.

These prized elements of video games contribute to what Margaret Robertson, director of game development at Hide&Seek, identified as the seduction loop. This loop, the holy trinity of game design, Robertson defines as agency, learning, and disproportionate feedback. Agency is rolled up in environment and ownership. It’s what give players a sense of power and control. Combining these elements in a game or in a class will make students motivated, engages, and coming back for more.

AECT Standards
2.3 Computer-Based Technologies
Harnessing the best elements of video games and using them in thoughtful ways can help us build educational games that not only help students learn, but motivate, engage, and inspire students to pursue learning outside of the game.

Video Game Potential

Today I watched a TED talk about where we have come and where we may be going with video games. The purpose of the talk wasn’t directly connected to using games in education. It was more about how the video game industry has developed exponentially–in profits, users, and, most importantly, in innovation. If the video game industry continues on a similar trajectory, where could they take us in years to come? The graphics alone have become so life-like that they are almost even more beautiful than what we see in real life.

While I am awed by the potential of video games, I also carry a deep concern over the direction video games have taken. Seeing the history of war and fighting video games in this talk stirred fear over what’s next. I personally do not think it’s a benefit for children or adults to participate in realistic killing “games”. That’s just one negative story line video games have latched on to. What will they choose to capitalize on next?

With the current emphasis on using games in education, the optimist in me hopes the video-game industry uses their creativity, innovation and stunning, realistic graphics to create games that inspire learning while teaching the benefits of collaboration and communication.


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