Creating is Learning: Building skills and knowledge through Minecraft

Creating is Learning: Building skills and knowledge through Minecraft.

Computer games are fun and gaming is an important aspect of digital culture. The best part about computer games is that when we play, we learn!

This video was made as part of my Masters in Education studies at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia.

Full references, citations and the supporting paper can be found here:

Contact me or learn more about my other videos, studies and academic writing.

Thanks to Notch and Mojang for making such an excellent game. Thanks also to the Minecraft community (particularly /r/minecraft) and the people who have developed original content that I used in my video.

Can a kid make a Minecraft server?

Can a kid make a Minecraft server?

I think there’s plenty of evidence that kids, even as young as 11, are capable of making and running their own Minecraft server. 

Perhaps running a server sounds easy, but it’s not quite so simple. It’s obviously easier if you go the “paid” hosting route, which does it all for you. But what about hosting on your own computer? Well, that requires some learning, as one 11 year old boy discovered.

In the pursuit of making his own server, one boy learned about IP addresses, port forwarding and  technical issues that are related to computers and hosting a game server. A lot of valuable skills are learned through the process of ‘figuring it out’. As well, he learned really useful problem solving skills when he was forced to find solutions to unexpected problems.

This is a good example of learning “Beyond the Game”. The game itself is merely the stimulus for further learning (such as computers, internet networking, etc). Broader knowledge is acquired, as are skills related to computers, hardware or problem solving.

Gamers learn a lot, and an 11 year old boy who built his own server, is a good example of that!

Dilbert on Gamification

Dilbert on Gamification

I like this comic. It shows, I think, how gamification is misunderstood. People often criticise gamification for just being about awards and badges. However they fail to understand how a “game layer” can motivate people when implemented well.

Just adding badges and awards is meaningless. They have to be designed to make a participant feel motivated.

A People’s History Of The FPS

A People’s History Of The FPS

FPS (first person shooters) is the financial bread and butter of computer game makers. As well, FPS is a benchmark of gaming’s evolution. Despite the industry’s over-saturation of FPS games, some high paced shooters stand out as literal “game changers”.

In the early days of the FPS gold rush, Myst (and sequel Raven) was billed as the game that would define the genre. Instead a rough hack and slash shooter called Doom (released a few months later). Doom followed in the style of the legendary Wolfenstein 3D and became the biggest selling game in the world.

Most importantly, Doom was a highly moddable game. This lends credibility to my own theories about user created content. Because Doom was able to be modified, users could create new versions of the game by remixing other ideas into the Doom style of game. Some good examples are Ghostbusters, Batman and the amazing Aliens mod.

Following the history of first person shooters gives a valuable insight into the way games have evolved. The success of games doesn’t only depend on the game’s quality, content and gameplay. Games which are able to be modified by the user, remixed and shared are games that have more potential to spark gamers’ interests. To me, that’s a crucial element – whether by design or inadvertently, games which can be user-modified are more likely to achieve greater success and longevity.

The rest of the “People’s History of the FPS” is available here:

Part 2 –

Part 3 –

Game designers please note – game modability is the key to gaming success.

Teachers please note – when students are modding games, they’re learning!

More hate for gamification

More hate for gamification

The problem with “critics” is that they’ve got lots of opinions … but don’t usually contribute anything productive (other than their verbosity) to the discussion. The problem with gamification is that it has become so popular so fast that critics are lining up to take a swipe and feel good about themselves.

Margaret Robinson’s article from 2010 on gamification goes down the same road as many other critics, including Bogost’s scathing attack (mentioned in the previous post). Robinson is determined that gamification focuses on the least important part of the game. She, like Bogost, says that badges and progress points aren’t intrinsic to the game at all.

But she’s wrong … they are important. Gamification isn’t about the game itself. Gamification is about how a game layer (game elements) can be used as motivators. If we look directly at games we can confidently say that games have motivators. One motivation is to win, to be the best. That motivation is represented by a scoreboard (leader boards can be used as a gamifying technique). If there’s no score or no winner, then many will find the game to be less fun.

Let’s make it more clear through an example. I’m a bit of a poker player. I enjoy poker and I play it when I can. It’s possible to play poker without money and without talking to the other players. But doing so would take away most of the fun … it would take away the motivation to play. See, that’s an intrinsic part of gaming. Sometimes the game itself is not that interesting, but socialising and gambling add to the enjoyment. I play poker so that I can experience the adrenaline rush of winning a big hand and, at the same time, talking with friends over a few beers.

Sometimes the game is just a tool. The mechanics of the game are not that important. This is what gamification represents. If we add a game layer to other tasks then we add a motivation. Gamification includes rewards, and it also includes socialising.

More criticism. This time targeted at gaming guru Jane McGonigal. Through her Tedx talk, McGonigal talks about her heal and some experiences relating to that. Particularly she relates how she used gamification and roleplaying to help her recovery. 

Heather Chaplin, the author of the piece, says that games aren’t that fun and “gaming” isn’t for everyone. This is another common criticism of gaming and gamification – it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

Well, no … of course not! Nobody who is a proponent of gamification is saying such a thing.

The truth is that we all DO play games. We play various games in our daily lives. Some people play cards, some collect coupons or air miles. Some play sport and others play tetris on their smartphone. Everyone plays games … but not everyone plays the same type of game. That’s not the same as saying not everyone finds games appealing, which is a falsehood.

Gamification covers this problem too by acknowledging multiple approaches to motivating people to play. Level up systems, for example, are a combination of small (like an incremental number) and big (like a major “level”). This is important because some people are motivated by different goals. Some people like to see the incremental gains (immediate, short term goals) and others prefer the larger gains (long term goals). Both work together to motivate. The same with leaderboards – global leaderboards motivate those who wish to be the best. Social leaderboards motivate people who want to try and beat their friends. Some people are motivated by certain badges. Others are motivated by completely different goals or achievements such as social status.

A great “real world” example is scouts. Scouts get badges for proving that they have a certain skill. Once they demonstrate a skill they get a patch or badge. The badges give a scout status in the community (global leaderboard) and amongst their friends (social leaderboard). When the scout gets a certain number of badges they can get a promotion (level up). 

All of these ideas are older than the internet and computers. Gamification isn’t creating something new, it’s just identifying systems and motivational strategies that have been around for centuries.

The main criticisms of gamification is that it doesn’t focus on the most important part of the game (ie the actual game) and that games don’t appeal to everyone. 

Complete rubbish! The game and the rewards for playing are equally important. Everyone is motivated by different rewards, so gamification is a multi-faceted approach which acknowledges such. Finally, whether critics want to admit it or not, everyone DOES play games. Grandma may not play shooter games like Call Of Duty, but she does collect the supermarket discount stamps (that’s a game) and she does play bridge on Thursdays (another game). She doesn’t collect stamps because she thinks its fun (it’s not fun at all). She collects the stamps because there’s a reward (free stuff). She doesn’t play bridge because she enjoys the technicalities and math involved in the game. She plays because she can chat with her friends and is motivated to beat them (and win status as a good player).

See, gamification is everywhere. 

It’s too easy to criticise something because it’s popular. It’s much harder to take a more measured approach to understanding that gamification offers real potential in education. Games and gamification are valid tools for motivating people to participate and learn … it’s sad that we still have to fight this war over justifying the place of gaming in our culture.

Persuasive Games: Exploitationware

Persuasive Games: Exploitationware

Ian Bogost’s vitriolic attack on gamification, in my opinion, is somewhat scathing and unwarranted. His premise is that gamification focuses too much on the game layer of points and systems used to attract and motivate – rather than focusing on the actual game itself. Bogost’s contention is how gamification is able to be used by advertising and companies to manipulate people. He refers to gamification as ‘exploitationware’ in an attempt to use rhetoric and word-smithing to position gamification as, well, evil. 

My contention with Bogost’s view is that he’s looking for reasons to hate gamification and the tenets it supports. While a game layer over the real world may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s definitely merit to the idea – as well as historical precedent to justify it.

Let’s talk about classroom learning for a moment. A teacher decides that she needs to motivate students to learn more. This is every teacher’s desire. So the teacher decides to use sticker systems, stamps and candy. The teacher also offers rewards to students who perform well … this is gamification! The idea of giving students stickers (10 stickers and you get a reward) is no different to frequent flyer miles, no different to 10+1 coffee coupons. Stamps and points are the same. Giving prizes for reading 10 books in a semester is another reward system. Adding a game layer to the real world has been a trend for over 50 years. It’s a method to motivate participants and provide incentive to play the game. Often, that game is for profit (fly the same airline, rather than their competitors, and you get benefits).

When we look at the history of using games in education, the game itself is rarely the motivation – the reward of winning, prizes, status and other symbols are the reason we play. Numerous studies have shown that education based computer games are a failure because they don’t motivate students to keep playing. This is something “dark lord” Game Zichermann has stated on numerous occasions; the best games are not games made by educators. 

Now, I concede that Bogost is concerned with how gamification is used to monetize (and profit from) participants. It’s a somewhat persuasive methodology. However it’s inevitable that private industries will jump on the gamification bandwagon. Business, and advertisers, are always early adopters of new ideas. If you want to know what works, look at what private companies are doing!

Rather than investing in positioning “serious games” and “persuasive games” and “gamification” against each other, I wish that Bogost would consider that games and game methodologies (including gamification) can all be applied to education with considerable benefits. All of us who are pushing for change in education are on the same team.

I’d rather we spent our time focusing on what’s good for kids in schools. It doesn’t matter if you hate the word ‘gamification’. What matters is that the ideas can be applied to learning. 

Dedicating a few thousand words to rhetoric is a waste of words.

The Curiosity Cube

The Curiosity Cube

Sometimes the simple things are the most interesting. An ongoing social experiment called the Curiosity Cube is a social gaming project where players are faced with a giant cube which is made up of billions of smaller cubelets. Breaking cubelets accrues points and bonuses which can be spent on tools to make ‘digging’ through to the centre of the main cube more efficient.

The purpose of the game, simply, is to get to the centre and find out what’s inside. Interestingly, the developer has recently added the ability to actually add more cubelets (by paying money) to prevent the centre of the cube being accessed ( … this has been described as monetized trolling and may be a genius move that pits players against each other in a virtual war over accessing the cube. It’s a war which the developer will win, raking in money from a free game!

I’ve started playing on my iPhone and it’s fun. More importantly it will be interesting to observe what direction the game takes in the future.