Play is enjoyable – learning is boring! But does it really have to be like this? And, is it not possible to play while learning? More and more educational institutions have begun applying an approach that does just that. Importantly, this is not only being done as part of short learning games, but as part of complex game arrangements the results of which cannot always be predicted in advance. Frequently, these games are no longer directed towards a right or wrong, rather, the focus is placed on trying out new strategies.
This not only applies to online games: board games can also be used to encourage interaction and discussion. In fact, some schools are even entirely structured around play (such as role playing games). In these schools, game developers and teachers work together to create new challenges for their pupils.
Playfully working towards real solutions
Play can blur the boundary between the virtual and the real world. As part of alternative reality games, the rules of the world in which we live can be slightly adapted. This means that players can be presented with challenges and the solutions they find can then be implemented in the real world. Thus, games can also be used to playfully develop and test solutions to real-world problems.
Competition can also playfully find its way into learning, such as by enabling pupils to present each other with challenges. The use of playful elements is particularly widespread in the natural sciences, which is interesting, because these subjects have long had the reputation of being complicated and tedious. Games can, therefore, also be used to provide access to and break down prejudices and barriers to other subjects. Although games are less suitable when it comes to practising traditional subject knowledge, they work especially well when they reflect the complexity of reality and provide learners with plenty of room for experiments, puzzles and cooperation.
Opponents of this trend argue that life is not only fun, and that it is important to focus on difficult issues and to do so in a concentrated and disciplined manner. Nevertheless, ‘gamification’ is dissolving these apparent contradictions: games are not only fun, they often pose their players with difficult challenges. Clearly, the more complex a game becomes, the more important it becomes to learn new things and this includes cooperation with others. Thus, gamification brings one of the original ideas of research back into the learning process: solving puzzles and mysteries.