Open Thinkering


Tag: PS3

Game design, gamification, game mechanics and games-based learning.


In a couple of weeks’ time I’ll have the privilege of attending the Scottish Learning Festival (SLF). It’ll be my fourth consecutive time and one of the educational highlights of my year.

Something I’ve learned at SLF is how effectively video games can be used for learning. The main man in this regard is Derek Robertson along with the people he’s inspired.

My interest in games-based learning was piqued a little late in my teaching career to be of much use, unfortunately, but it has come in useful as a parent. My son’s favourite games at the moment are Minecraft and Little Big Planet – both games are focused on building things and being creative.

But what about me?

I enrolled recently on the Coursera Gamification course led by Kevin Werbach not really expecting much. After all, it’s just a bunch of videos and some multiple-choice quizzes, right? But I’m actually enjoying it. 10-minute videos featuring an engaging speaker suits my attention span just fine.

As a Philosophy graduate I had been intrigued by Kevin Werbach’s reference to Wittgenstein’s problem of defining what constituted a ‘game’.

I was even more intrigued when he made reference to the work of Bernard Suits that claims there are three constituent parts that make up games:

To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity [lusory attitude].

As a casual gamer I tend to play games that are easy to pick up and put down. So over the past year I’ve been playing mainly Battlefield 3 and Burnout Paradise as well as unsuccessfully curbing my 19-year addiction to Football Manager.

But the gamification course made me really think about game design and game mechanics. Instead of watching a film tonight I went looking for a new game. I came across Journey.

Oh. My. Goodness.

It took about the same amount as watching a film for me to complete. I don’t have the words to describe how magestic it was, how it managed to play with my emotions, and how cleverly-designed the overall experience felt.

There’s no explicit communication in Journey. Nor are there any written or verbal instructions. Other players who are online at the same time as you pop-up on occasion to join you for a while. There’s simultaneously endless possibilities in a vast lanscape and an unfolding narrative. The whole thing is cinematic.

At times I felt uplifted; other times confused, surprised, shocked, relieved or just happy and relaxed. It’s a game that really does play with your emotions.

The experience of playing Journey has made me reflect about not only game design, gamification, game mechanics and games-based learning but also learning itself. To my mind effective learning is about a series of impactful, memorable experiences –  and I certainly had an amazing experience playing Journey this evening!

Informal learning, gaming, and #openbadges design

Burnout Paradise

One of my favourite games for the PlayStation 3 is Burnout Paradise. Apart from the racing and being able to take down cars in spectacular ways, one of the reasons I love it is because it’s a non-linear game.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that after a (very) lightweight introduction, the whole map is open to the player. You’re guided through the mechanics of the game as you play it, and you can choose what you want to do next. If you just want to drive around, that’s fine. In fact, there’s ‘challenges’ to complete (smashing through billboards, etc.) if that’s all you want to do. By driving around you actually discover some of the ‘formal’ challenges like races as well as the auto repair shops.

Burnout Paradise - map

Every now and again, either through winning races or completing stunt challenges you’ll unlock a new car. But you still have to go and find it and take it down. And there’s also the ‘stealth’ achievements you unlock unexpectedly. It’s a compelling, very rewarding game in its own right, never mind being able to play live online against other human opponents!

Recently, within the Mozilla Learning team we’ve been discussing the non-linearity of badge systems and how interest-based learning can be scaffolded and assessed. Obviously the assessment is ultimately going to lead to Open Badges, but a few of us feel that we can’t merely replicate the existing structures found in formal education. There’s not much point in using badges if the learning design still talks about a ‘101’ class or uses a Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced approach.

The question has come up, as it always does, about pre-requisites. There’s no getting away that some learning is built upon prior knowledge, the argument goes. That’s certainly true, but there’s ways of motivating the learner to want to undertake that prior learning. That way is by appealing to their interests.

As with anything new, the easiest way to get at what we can do is through metaphor. In this case, I think that a video game serve as a very useful model for what we want to do. Start with the player (in this case the learner) and scaffold experiences around them.

Does that make sense?