Gamification: “How Games Make Kids Smarter” by Gabe Zichermann

Now for those of you who’ve stumbled upon my post today and the first words out of your mouth are: “Chad, you must be out of your mind because you’re making up words now!” – actually, no I’m not. It’s a legit word that’s been floating around the industry now for quite some time. Gamification is defined as:

“The process of applying game design principles to non-game activities to make them more engaging to a user.” 

So why is this important, well, for years I have heard the nay-sayers and the hoards of pitch-fork laced, torch bearing parental units who march up with every cause in the book about how games will inevitably kill off every feasible skill that their child has. They feel like the idea of video games as an educational medium can’t possibly be a reality, and that today’s console market is so laden with violent, mature, sexually explicit content that even an unladen swallow would be burdened down by the size of that irrational coconut.

The fact of the matter is parents are only seeing a fraction of the market, and they’re also only seeing the visual content in which a game provides. Now, first and foremost, I want to make it known that I don’t condone violent video games for children. It’s wrong and it’s a parent’s decision to make sure that a child’s influences are maintained and controlled. The truth is that the video game market isn’t as scary as parents make it out to be, and in fact, games offer children so much more to this generation than they had when I was growing up as a child.

The reason I chose to write about this today is because I listened to a discussion by a game designer, Gabe Zichermann, and his theories on why children seem as though they may have attention deficit disorder and why games are actually quite educational for well, not just children, but everyone.

Gabe starts off his lecture with discussing a great game, which I think most of my fellow 90’s generation folks will know and love: Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego? Now I can splurge on how many hours I capped into that game, and how it was indeed an educational wormhole of knowledge for me growing up. I can also provide you with a list of other educational games that I grew up with that taught me a ton of life skills and lessons as I developed:

  • Word Munchers – Word and Phonics Skills
  • Civilization – Democracy, Resource Management, Diplomacy
  • The Sims – Spacial Layouts, Finance Management, Architectural Design
  • Rollercoaster Tycoon – Finance Management, Customer Satisfaction
  • Museum Madness – History, Science, Physics, etc.

Now why is all of this important, does it even really matter how I grew up and what games I played? Well, no, but each of these games has affected how the gaming industry has developed itself in some way. The Sims proved that our limitations of our brains were only limited by the world’s we could create. Will Wright proved to the world that games were not just infantile toys, but methods of expression and creativity for our brains. Zichermann expresses this very well in his talk, basically explaining that perhaps the reason children these days seem like may have ADD, is because with technology and games at their fingertips children of this era have become immune to traditional teaching methods, because our world is too slow.

Most modern games today don’t come out of the box and state that they’re educational material, except if you count companies like Leapfrog, MobiGo, and V-Tech that specialize in kid’s educational game development. Modern consoles, however, not so much. Sure there are a few games here and there that specialize and overtly state that they are an educational game for kids and parents [ Once Upon A Monster comes to mind… ] but for the most part the console market is weighed down by heftier, meatier, more robust content. Does that mean that they’re not educational? Absolutely not!

Let’s take a look at a modern HUD screen from a video game and take into account what exactly a child, or anyone for that matter, has to process when playing a video game. Here I’ve chosen to pick one of my favorite video games of all time, Jak and Daxter, as an example piece:

[ This is a prime example of Multitasking 101 ]

Notice how many items that a player has to keep track of: fireflies collected, health bar, precursor orbs, jet ski speed, map, etc.

These are all visual cues that a player has to be cognizant of at one time or another throughout the entire game. Zichermann explains that this sense of immersion and cognitive experience is actually better for students and he even gives an example in the video about how a teacher, Ananth Pai, replaced his students school curriculum with game-based education. He gave students Nintendo DS systems and off-the-shelf video games that helped promote math and language skills. The results were astonishing as the students within the class jumped an almost full grade level in their educational awareness.

[ Visual Awareness, Reading, and Problem Solving? Eh Gads! It’s too much! ]

So to say that games are non-educational wastes of space is just wrong and unsettling. Zichermann states that gamification and the result of the overwhelming acceptance of video games in our lives gives us training methods at our fingertips. He expresses that games are growing up everywhere from our cars, to our homes, to our stop lights. We’re developing into a game based culture and we shouldn’t be scared of it. I personally believe we should embrace it, because it will give us a way to make all of this social media, social interaction, immersive education, collaboration efforts, etc.

If you haven’t read my article on Jane McGonigal’s ideas on how gaming can make a better world, Zichermann’s ideas embrace McGonigal’s ideas and he understands that the world is changing to a game-based society. The use of games will help us make the world fun, educational, collaborative, and will actually allow the children of our world provide a way to make a difference in our current society.

If, after ALL of this, and you still don’t believe in my endorsement of gamification and it’s affects on the educational processes of our culture, I urge you to check out two things. First please check out this video of a young 12 year old boy named Thomas Suarez.

This kid is amazing, and I’m hoping one day when I get lucky enough to have children of my own that I’ll eventually have a son like this kid. I hope that my love of video games and technology will rub off somehow and my son or daughter will embrace the technological era and run with it like Thomas has. He’s not only taught himself coding and how to design apps for a global market, but he’s now teaching an app building club for fellow students in his school! Honestly, if that isn’t the coolest thing in the world I don’t know what is. More power to you Thomas! Keep it up man!

Secondly, I’ll ask that if you’re STILL skeptical that this modern era of video games is going to ultimately bring down the educational levels of your children to a diabolical screeching halt have no fear. Unfortunately, no, our consoles and PC’s are not the TARDIS and I highly doubt any teacher is Dr. Who [ although that would be fantastic! ] but teachers need to get informed as to how our educational mediums are becoming too basic for students. We have to make education engaging and exciting, and the way to do that is to introduce gaming of some sort into the classroom.

If you’re interested, and a teacher, I urge you to check out this string of articles by Andrew Proto – a fellow blogger over at Zichermann’s Gamification Blog.

http://gamification.co/2011/09/28/the-gamified-classroom/

Take care folks, and may the educational system be enhanced by the methods that we choose to teach from in the coming future. I can’t wait for the day when games start to help problem solving real life issues, and we start to see a real change in our world due to awareness and activity formed by video game play.

Happy educating folks!

4 responses to “Gamification: “How Games Make Kids Smarter” by Gabe Zichermann

  1. I really love the video of Thomas Suarez, i heard about him before through newspaper but never watch his performance and i really like the way he talked and confidences that he had….kids on future i guess will be more to this way….

    • Yeah, I can definitely see a clear sign attributed to the current electronic market for children, and the ease in which they seem to be able to communicate via devices. Thomas is an anomaly, and someone very special to be able to do something like that at his age – but I think we’ll be seeing a trend like this in the near future.

      As computers, tablets, phones, etc. become common place and regularly used via classrooms – you’ll start to see gaming companies build educational, productive, problem solving games for classrooms via consoles or PCs. The concept of building educational games isn’t new, but the object of gamification and teaching children through interactive communications, instead of passive media seems to be growing. This trend is going to lend itself to major changes in both education and in gaming. I predict we’re going to see children of this current generation, who can honestly pick up a computers skills with ease at the age of 3 – 4.

      Gaming companies will start to focus on providing gamification methods for teachers across the country. I wouldn’t be surprised to see console parties start donating consoles with educational game packages to schools at some point. The way we can interconnect now with the billions of people across nations – the sky is the limit and it’s only going to be limited by how much these children want to learn and grow.

  2. Pingback: blog 1 May, 17 “How games make kids smarter” | lendawg83

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