Gaming devices, ubiquitous in the homes of the students we educate, are significant modes of education and motivation to learn. Countless conversations relating the latest video game he or she is playing during after-school hours can be overheard in hallways. So frequent are the conversations that concern has been raised questioning why this next generation of learners is not outside playing and enjoying the fresh air, rather than being mesmerized by a gaming device. So to be the questions asked that query how and in what way is interacting with video games considered play?
Given the way current students engage in a technological world it is reasonable to expect educators to harness the currency and motivation of video games. However, it is not clear that merely transferring video game culture into education is either easy or productive. Through an exploration of past research of video games, play, and motivation, this literature review will provide some validity, value and necessity of the incorporation of video game devices in the education environment.
In what way is interacting with video game devises considered play and what motivates these individuals to engage in this type of play? To understand the relevancy of the relationship of the term play in applying it to video games, one must first understand the influence of play on a child. Play is considered the foundation of child development. Whether it occurs outside in the natural elements or within the confine of a space that supports an electronic device, the characteristics of play need to be addressed. Bruner (1983) describes the element of play with the following characteristics:
- Play implies a reduction in the seriousness of the consequences of errors and setbacks.
- Play is characterized by a very loose linkage between means and ends.
- Play is very rarely random; it follows a scenario.
- Play is projection of interior life onto the world in opposition to learning through which we interiorize the exterior world and make it part of ourselves.
- Play gives pleasure.
Until recent advancements and adaptations within the gaming industry, electronic devices and computer play were quite sedentary ways of participating in gaming activity. However, with the development of motion sensor games, play has evolved to be more physically demanding, if achieving successful results is desired.
In schools, teachers and students are primarily working with computers to support learning and student engagement.
When a student engages or plays with a computer program, in many cases the student will remain static. Play can take hold in many forms, interacting with blocks, figurines, markers, balls, and other children. With computer games, the computer hardware is not part of the game. It becomes the means for accessing the game. In gaming the physical hardware is not interacted with as in the traditional sense of play. Yet, once a student engages in a computer program, he or she involves themselves in the very characteristics of play that Bruner outlined previously.
Video game interaction provides a sense of escape for individuals who participate in their use. This sense of escape allows users to play in so-called make-believe worlds, without any real consequence, thus allowing for challenges to occur. Bruner (1983) refers to this, as the reduction of seriousness of the consequences of errors and setbacks. In one research study focusing on video game play, a boy was quoted as saying “I just love the fact that I know it can’t happen. I just love all the things that they can do. ’Cause if you’re in a real world, then there’s a limitation to what you can do and what you can’t do.” (Olson, 2010, p.183) Without limits in the video game world, mistakes can be made without any real consequences and students can retry until he or she is successful. The individual learns what not to do and self-corrects the behavior.
When students are engaged in play, ideas are stimulated that effectively draw him or her into a fantasy-world. These worlds have boundaries and rules, but seem to be loosely followed. Bruner describes how play is very seldom random, and it follows a scenario. The conversations that students engage in often discuss games of strategy or sports. Katie Salen who is a game designer and architect of the Quest to Learn Institute in New York City, states,
“Games and game environments are good learning tools”, Salen explained, partly because players understand, from the outset, what the objective is. And while players think they are in control, the truth is that games have been carefully designed to give players that belief. Well-designed games are structured to give players the knowledge they need to solve problems just when they need it. (Kyllo, 2010, CBC)
Gaming much like playing in the schoolyard, follows a pattern. In the schoolyard if the plan isn’t going as anticipated the individual can make a choice to change the scene and continue on. Similarly in a gaming situation, if the player makes a mistake or maneuvers a wrong turn, that behaviour is changed and corrected for the next time and play continues. The incentive to correct and overcome the challenges of the game is what makes playing both frustrating and enjoyable.
Providing a positive learning experience within the classroom is key. Incorporating video games in the classroom setting can contribute to the success of the learning experience. Students grow up in a fast-paced, digitally enhanced society and it is a challenge to engage and motivate students in school. Older teaching methodologies can appear ineffective and new approaches must actively engage the students. Video games and computers, so prevalent in the lives of the students, should be utilized as resources and implemented in the classroom. The attractiveness of this can be seen in the following list compiled by author, retired teacher and avid gamer Jayel Gibson:
- Challenge and strategy
- Element of surprise
- Replay ability
- New information
- Context and cognition
- Gender and ethnic balance.
One of the many sites that my students enjoy exploring when they have completed their tasks for any daily lesson, always inquire if they can use Hooda Math . This site provides online Math concept learning games of all varieties and differentiates between grade levels. Out of the selection of games available, students often choose to play games of logic. A game called the Goat Crossing is a student favorite. The objective of the game is to get a group of goats across the river using a raft. The following is the list of rules and restrictions students must follow to be successful:
- The raft can carry only 2 people/animals crossing.
- The black goat cannot be left with any of the white goatlings unless the white goat is present.
- The white goat cannot be left with any of the black goatlings unless the black goat is present.
- The wolf cannot stay with any of the goats unless the farmer is present.
- Only the black goat, white goat, and farmer know how to use the raft for crossing.
Of note, when students involve themselves with this game, all of Gibson’s criteria are being met. Students are challenged, need to develop strategies to solve the problem (challenge and strategy), and there are multiple replays to do this (replay ability). The element of surprise occurs when a student selects a combination that is correct and the raft crosses the river, or when an image flashes upon the screen showing an image that depicts an incorrect combination (element of surprise). When a student discovers a certain combination is incorrect, new information is gained to make another attempt (new information, memorization, context and cognition). Finally, students can work in pairs themselves if he or she chooses, using the words or images on the screen to help solve the problem. The game isn’t targeted to any particular gender or ethnicity (gender and ethnic balance). When students complete the task, he or she is eager to share strategies with peers and teachers, thus demonstrating his/her understanding of the task.
Alongside online video games, computer programs are viewed as essential in providing a motivating and positive learning experience for students. Kidspiration is a computer program that allows students to organize and represent their ideas with various pictures and print in a student-friendly approach. With this type of program available for student use, Hong and Trepanier-Street’s (2004) research demonstrated that “young children’s conceptions of their world are often more detailed and at a higher level than their fine motor skills permit them to represent with conventional tools”(p.88). With this statement, an argument could be made to support the use of a program such as Kidspiration for a student who may have difficulty with reading and writing comprehension.
Many students struggle with these simple tasks, and teachers sense the frustration a student experiences. With program assistance, students who have difficulty placing simple thoughts onto paper have support that can provide a positive experience with learning. During classroom observations, students observed have more success and are far more willing and eager to share with peers and teachers. In addition, incorporating the structure of peer-support; a student stronger with reading and writing skills, could work with one of lesser ability on the program, would further enrich a positive learning experience. When students collaborate yet generate individual thoughts and opinions they tend to take more ownership for what they are doing and in turn the learning becomes of a more positive, rich and worthwhile experience.
Through use of video games and/or computer programs such as Hooda Math or Kidspiration, students understand that they are learning new information, but the individual feels as though they are playing while learning.