Games vs. Gamification (Part 2)

It is January . . . time for looking at upcoming trends for 2017. An interesting way to look at gamification trends is to contrast them with game trends. Contrasting them helps to delineate commonalities and differences while identifying opportunities and limitations for applying gaming in the world of eLearning.

JAG Global Learning

JAG Global Learning

GAMING, CONSUMERISM, AND LIFE

Gaming is a major part of U.S. and international consumer culture. Regardless of the platform—Nintendo, PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and various mobile platforms—individuals play games while waiting for their dentist or the chicken to roast while at home. Advances in the field, and this is not surprising, are driven by technology.  Moreover, gaming has become an integral part of consumerism and rewards, driven by our use of portable technology, which has become a measure of identity. Life without it, for many, seems unimaginable. In short, gaming is a central to daily living not just education. But . . . let’s close the door of dystopia and focus on a couple of gaming trends to see their powerful application for eLearning.

Two key gaming trends are the use of GPS in the field and VR in a fixed environment.  Regarding the latter, VR technology has improved greatly and is becoming more widely available and affordable to the general public. In order to appreciate advances in eLearning gamification, let’s look at two important games: Pokémon Go and Resident Evil: Biohazard.

Pokémon is a wildly popular console game created two decades ago with the goal of players collecting, training, and using fictional characters (Pokémon) in battle. This concept was franchised through trading cards, movies, and videos. The most recent incarnation is Pokémon Go, which is a free mobile app that empowers participants to travel to different physical spots using GPS to locate different types of Pokémon. The Resident Evil console game is quite different. Instead of traveling to different spots in the “actual” world, through the use of cutting edge virtual reality (VR) headsets, the VR participant is immersed in a digital world, ostensibly supplanting the “actual” world. Biohazard has been singled out for its shocking, graphic realism.

NEW GAMING TRENDS AND GAMIFICATION

1. Variations of Reality

Variations of reality? Let’s look at references in popular culture: Keanu Reeves’ Neo in the Matrix and Jessie L. Martin’s Tom Collins in Rent. Neo combats the Matrix to release humans from their unconsciousness albeit physical slavery that sustains their virtual world; alternatively, Tom Collins, from MIT, is kicked out of his doctoral program for his theory of Actual Reality, which mocks theoretical concepts of reality in favor of civic action to address inequity and injustice.

Let’s look at different types of reality, as it were represented by the extremes noted above. When thinking about alternative uses and understandings of reality, remember the context. A primary gaming goal is to entertain the participant. There are, of course, secondary benefits, but entertainment is central. This can be performed through the satisfaction of game mastery or simply emotional release. The primary goal of gamification is different: learning, or for us, eLearning, which ultimately has the associated benefit of real-world application.

Virtual Reality (VR) provides gamers with a more compelling experience by supplanting actual or visual representations of the world with a complete simulation; likewise, VR provides learners with the most tangible sense of trial and error that they would otherwise only be able to obtain by personal training. What’s the obvious challenge for developers in eLearning? Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry that has huge capital resources for R&D. eLearning does not have that benefit. However, in as much as the government uses VR in its training and executive operation, it is possible that educational institutions might be able to draw upon that intellectual capital given that government VR applications were created using public money.

Augmented Reality (AR) is capable of adding (augmenting) digital information to live videos. This provides users with an ability to appreciate space/size ratios among other things. Imagine using an AR app to position not-yet-bought furniture around a video of your living room. While this example draws on a consumer, marketing app, there are a range of eLearning opportunities. Note field use is not restricted to eLearning outside.

Program-Based Reality creates narrative scenarios through a basic user-computer interface. The “reality” is governed by the gamer or learner’s operation of commands, which then generates programmed results. This was a precursor of VR’s trial and error. This is traditional eLearning that uses in-class or Internet based educational portals.

On-the-Job-Training (OJT) is the traditional manner through which skills and trades are transmitted to new employees or apprentices. No use of technology per se. Each perspective of reality noted above—VR, AR, PBR, and OJT—figuratively and literally position the gamer or learner in his or her use of technology.

What are some of the new applications in eLearning? Nurse training, McDonalds management training, repair/maintenance, and anatomy tutorials are the most commonly sited examples. While we all may have our favorite “reality” approach to eLearning, but who is to say that they cannot be used in combination? Imagine training individuals working in complicated and vast storage and/or archival network. Much can be accomplished through each approach used above, with OJT being the final run through before employee independence.

2. The Future of Gaming and Gamification?

While Pokémon Go and Resident Evil are taking the gaming world by storm, there is another approach, just as important, but with a different modus operandi and significant future application for eLearning and gamification. Minecraft, one of the best selling video console games of all time, has been around for a relatively short time. While similar to other gaming applications, Minecraft is distinctive for incorporating the capacity for gamers to build virtual landscapes and even change the rules of the game; participants can play in various modes: survival, creative, adventure, and spectator. The game permits individual and multiple players.  Why should this be of value to eLearning and gamification?

As noted, gamification draws upon natural human capacities in a variety of ways, for example, competition and social recognition. Many elements of gaming, though, are based on competition. Yes, there is value here, but to reach its full potential, eLearning needs a wider focus. Minecraft permits survival (competition), but it facilitates adventure and creation too. Isn’t that what education and eLearning should be about?  Instead of creating platforms for competitive games, eLearning administrators can create intellectual and visual landscapes that depict the relationship of concepts and areas of study instead of relying upon analog outlines. Here, learners can walk through and access/add content information. On a different level, learners can create their own landscapes and projects or develop discussions questioning given ideas and offering new ones. The challenge here . . . as with the facets of gaming and its application in consumer culture, one must be mindful that the means of eLearning does not override the primary goal: learning.

Next week let’s take an academic turn in our discussion and look at some seminal gamification articles as well some recent publications. See you next week!

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., JAG Learning Strategist

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