Tony Gurr

The GAMES we play……………. (Pt 01 of ???)

In Classroom Teaching, ELT and ELL, Teacher Learning, Technology on 15/01/2013 at 4:36 pm

Gamification 12 (winning the game)

As an EDUcator (and, perhaps moreso, as a TEACHer EDUcator) I am not interested in surface or superficial LEARNing…I am interested in “real” LEARNingdeep LEARNingtransformational LEARNing (even).

I have never been a “fan” of educators or institutions that simply say they want to be “different” – I have always found that this perspective on LEARNing is more about “What’s NEW” rather than the more important consideration of “What MATTERS”.


“Winning” has also never really interested me – though I must admit I hate “losing”!

COLLABORATION beats COMPETITION hands down – always!


I have also always been more interested in LEARNing that “makes a difference” to the lives of LEARNers – and I push this little “envelope” of mine a little further and actually “define” LEARNing as anything that:

Gamification 11 (defining LEARNing)


This is perhaps why I struggle with the way some EDUcators over-emphasise “games” in LEARNing.8

Gamification 10 (the hunger variety)

The recent resurgence of games and their role in LEARNing (or to use the sexier, upgraded term “gamification” – the global, cultural phenomenon) and their impact on the brave, new world of technologically-enabled EDUcation (and ELL – English Language LEARNing) has really got me thunking over the past few months.

Just do a search on the term (yes, right now…on Google) and see how many “hits” you get.

It’s scary stuff…for a “word” that ain’t even in most dictionaries, yet!


I was at an ELT Seminar recently (and why do we call them ELT…not ELL seminars, anyways) and witnessed something a bit “surreal”. A younger “digital cheerleader” and TEACHer I have seen on the “circuit” – did a session on “Gamification in ELT” – he got a half-decent crowd (buzz-words will always have that effect)!

Almost immediately – the first words out of his mouth were “TEACHers need to forget all their language syllabi – and teach English ONLY through games”…

You can imagine the response!

Rotten tomatoes whizzing past my ears (I like to sit in the middle row at seminars – all the “bad kids” sit at the back)…the room echoed with loud “Turkish tuts…and quiet whispers of “Manyak…yaa!

He didn’t seem to care…I got the impression that he was not a very good “listener”. He had a “speech” about a “sexy” topic…and he was gonna “deliver“! Mmmmm…

I did!

The thing is…and remember I’m pretty patient (tolerant, too)he really annoyed me. Actually, the suggestion that “games” should “replace” solid LEARNing and TEACHing practice in the classroom…was the thing that got me!


This is a job for “Super-Blogger”!


My aim is not to get into the definitions, history and trends of gamification (that’s been done to death on many other blogs) – but, as ever, Wiki to the “rescue”:

Gamification 07

Fair enough!


The rationale for the “explosion” in gamification in both our leisure activities and workplaces is equally easy to get our heads around:

Gamification 05


I mean, come on, even Ben Franklin “got” it (way back in the day…really back in the day – in 1750):

Gamification 06

…in matters of LEARNing!


As an EDUcator, my “gut” tells me:

Gamification 03

This is why I talked about “resurgence”good EDUcators have known for years that “games” can and do help promote effective LEARNing.

The thing is, I also “know” that:

Gamification 04

This is probably why I detest the phrase “EDUtainment” (especially when used to describe what TEACHer LEARNing opportunities “should” be “all” about)…but I (still) use it all the time when I speak to others.


Yes, for me

Gamification 02

– but is should not be the “goal” of EDUcational experiences!


I guess my challenge is that I am trying to reconcile myself with the notion of gamification at the level of “beliefs” or the fundamental “assumptions” that drive what I do as an EDUcator (or, perhaps, “how” I do it).

Like many thunking EDUcators (who operate in more “formal LEARNing contexts”), I still struggle with many of my beliefs…that’s the God’s-honest truth…especially when it comes to my own beliefs on informal LEARNing (or what is sometimes called “self-INSTRUCTion” or “self-TEACHing”) – even though I view myself as a very talented “self-TEACHer”!


What do I mean here?


It’s difficult for me (as a TEACHer) to separate my own intuitive assumptions about LEARNing from the stuff I am still LEARNing from the (emerging) “science” of good LEARNing and the notions that (rightly or wrongly) are functioning as the engine of change in EDUcation these days.

It is equally difficult for me to see the difference between what I have LEARNed (over years and years) about the “artistry of good TEACHing” (for myself, often by myself – by “failing”…a lot) and the things I have LEARNed (and continue to LEARN every day) from my interactions with those that I “LEARN” (OK – you know I mean “teach” there)!


Whoa! Heavy!

What the hell has happened to the Tony we know and love?


As I said, “FUN is a SERIOUS business”but LEARNing is “seriouser”!

With this in mind…I thought it was time for me to “thunk” over what happens if and when I am confronted with “ideas” that could (eventually) remove or replace “formal TEACHing and LEARNing” (in a face-2-face institutional context)…that’s what some “gamification cheerleaders” are saying these days! That’s what my young “digital gamification cheerleader” was banging on about!

Especially, when we thunk about ELL…or even “Chinese Language Learning” (the other “disruption” that keeps me awake some nights), if it comes to that.


I “know”, in my heart-of-hearts, that what Carl Rogers said:

Rogers QUOTE (Facilitation of LEARNing)

…makes more sense in ELL than it might in “other” disciplines.


Classroom interaction is a very “poor substitute” for immersion in the culture and the day-to-day happenings of an actual English-speaking environment (this is how I LEARNed Turkish – after dropping out of a couple of “courses” because the TEACHers were driving me up-the-bloody-wall)!

A pile of lessons on lexico-grammatical structures and skills-based strategies (in a very “artificial” classroom environment) can never match (blow-for-blow) the struggles of balancing life, study and work (not to mention a relationship with someone you fall in love with – and having to dance around the pitfalls of a “mixed-marriage-to-be”) on some distant shorewithout your mum and dad to protect you!

As I said…this is how I LEARNed Turkish!


What I keep coming back to is the basic “truth” that Language LEARNing is bloody hard work…but it’s hard work that can be made easier when there is a bit of “fun” involved…and when we hit the sense of “flow” that comes from engaging in “real” problem solving and the feeling of “success” that comes from solving those problems (feelings that are magnified when you know you did it…on your own)!

What I have just described there is exactly (maybe not word for word) what the gamification cheerleaders are saying about “doing ELL” through games!

At an intuitive level…I agree…but then again those bloody “belief-thingies” get in the way!

Gamification 08 (exploding head upgrade)

As such, I thought it might be a good idea for me to explore my own “beliefs” – and check out why it is that the term gamification (and the prospect of games replacing formal LEARNing) “scares” me so much.


I believe:

  • All students can learn…and, indeed, have the right to LEARN and be LEARNed by others. 
  • LEARNing is (a lot) more than “knowing” – it is about doing something with what we know and our ability to continue to LEARN and grow after “formal EDUcation” is over. 
  • LEARNing is a complex process that involves the whole person in a constructive, situated and collaborative exercise of sense-making. 
  • LEARNers develop knowledge, skills and attitudes best when they are connected “to” and transformed “by” their LEARNing – in addition to “taking responsibility” for that LEARNing. 

FOUR types of LEARNing

I do…I really believe these things!

…and I can show you “evidence” of this…through what I “say” and “do” in my interactions with others! Hopefully, a few of those others (those that “know” me in the non-virtual world) will vouch for me on this!


I also recognise that I (yes, even me) was “socialised” by my experiences within “institutions” and systems of “formal” EDUcation. This is why I mentioned the second point above. Many of my beliefs on LEARNing have been shaped by my LEARNing within these formal institutions – and by the fact that TEACHing plays an important role within the schools, colleges and universities that have made me the EDUcator I am today.

This having been said I do not subscribe to the view that dominates the way many of these institutions “do business”this being that the “means” (TEACHing) are more important than the “ends” (student LEARNing and SUCCESS).

LEARNing vs TEACHing 01


Hence, I also believe:

  • The best EDUcational institutions maintain an unshakeable focus on student LEARNing and success in everything they do, they have a “living” mission (rather than one that is little more than “wall decoration” for visitors) and a “lived” educational philosophy (that they “walk” every day). 
  • A focus on “student engagement” is also the key to successful LEARNing in “formal LEARNing environments” and that this engagement has two key components: the time, effort and other activities students put into their studies and the ways in which an institution allocates its resources and organises LEARNing opportunities to encourage students to benefit from such activities. 
  • The primary role of EDUcators and institutions is to support LEARNers to achieve success – read that again (nuff said)! 
  • TEACHing and LEARNing are two sides of the same coin – the LEARNing of students (in an institutional context) is largely dependent on the quality of TEACHers, the TEACHing they receive and the level of student engagement created by TEACHers. 
  • The best institutions (and their TEACHers) do not simply “cover” their curriculum – they “UNcover” it by listening to their LEARNers, by hearing their LEARNers…and by adapting themselves and what they do to the reality of LEARNing environment in which they operate. 
  • Curricular should be (a lot more) more than a “TEACHing plan” – TEACHers and institutions should conceptualise of curriculum as the expression of “educational beliefs in practice” and must think of curriculum in terms of the “whole educative process” (rather than simply “content” or a document that collects dust on a shelf somewhere)! 
  • Many of the dispositions required for successful LEARNing are the same as the positive behaviours and dispositions that characterise effective TEACHing professionals (yani, the best TEACHers are also the best LEARNers). 
  • Effective TEACHing is grounded on a multi-dimensional set of abilities: what teachers know and understand about LEARNing, how they prepare to TEACH, what they expect of students, what they do when they TEACH and assess LEARNing, how they treat students, and how they evaluate their own practice and improve as professionals. 
  • Highly effective TEACHers help all students to identify their individual LEARNing goals, perform at their highest levels and achieve success. 
  • Highly effective TEACHers view students’ strengths and weaknesses as opportunities for LEARNing – and (actually) encourage their LEARNers to “fail” (by modelling this themselves as “real” people – not as infallible “knowers”). 
  • Great TEACHing involves articulating and generating enthusiasm for LEARNing and modelling the skills of a lifelong LEARNer. 
  • TEACHing grounded on a ‘just-in-case’ model is not as effective as TEACHing at times when students need to and are highly motivated to LEARN (a ‘just-in-time’ model).


Whoa! What the hell has happened to Tony, shiriously?

…why have you “kidnapped” him and replaced him with this “BOT-version”?


My beliefs have been further shaped (nearly there, guys) by my own “imagineering about the future” – what I believe is important for the future of LEARNers as we race into the brave, new word of 21st Century LEARNing (yes, I “hate” the phrase, too – but you get what I am saying).

21C earth logo mid (TG ver)


These beliefs are:

  • Knowledge in the 21st Century is expanding so rapidly (bla,bla,bla!) and, just as students can’t LEARN everything about a “discipline” (especially “language”) or even everything across a range of disciplines (trans-disciplinary LEARNing is the “way ahead”) during their school or university career, TEACHers can NOT (and should NOT) try to TEACH “everything”. 
  • Facilitating “real” student LEARNing (that continues to “evolve” after “graduation”) must involve developing students’ critical thunking, independent problem-solving and performance capabilities (towards the same multi-dimensional sets of abilities that make for great TEACHers). 
  • EDUcational institutions need to make technology integral to LEARNing and adopt new digital technologies to achieve TEACHing practices more appropriate to 21st Century LEARNing. 
  • 20th Century institutions will only survive into the 21st Century, if they can adapt (and re-adapt) themselves by first creating and nurturing institutional cultures that are open and responsive to meaningful change and real LEARNing – the days of creating institutions for TEACHers and administrators are well and truly “over”, boys n’ girls! 
  • To survive – schools, colleges and universities must realign their processes, policies and practices around the notion of student LEARNing (and put that LEARNing at the heart of their decision-making) – because “survival is not mandatory” and systems that place their “means” over LEARNer “ends” will also go the way of the dinosaurs!


What is it about all these beliefs that might account for the “bad taste” that many of the current discussions on gamification leave in my mouth?

Many of them do, in fact, seem to support the “theory” that gamers and EDUgamers work with…


Actually, after getting all those thunks on “paper” and re-reading them

I suddenly feel very “naked”!

Gamification 09 (explosing beliefs)

Is that part of the problem, acaba?



Gamification 01


  1. Methinks thou dost protest too much. I don’t think you need to invoke any binaries between ‘serious’ and ‘fun’ learning, or suggest that ‘fun’ is in some way antithetical to learning. Let’s face it, you just didn’t like the guy and you fancied a good rant about his perceived superficiality.

    • Laurence,

      How goes it ole Blighty? You is right – “binary talk” is the way of the Sith and I should stop it right now!

      I actually struggled with this post a great deal…I did. As a TEACHer I “love” having fun – I do (you know me)but “real” LEARNing is serious. We have just seen a FB “war” here in good ole canım Türkiyem…because of the “snow holidays” (have you got any of those in the UK, yet). Lots of people got really upset with their TEACHer friends because of some of the stuff that was posted on Facebook – lots of “unprofessional stuff” that gets us EDUcators a “bad name”…a really bad name. We cannot, if we are serious about our students’ LEARNing and SUCCESS, joke around about “how great it is NOT to have to go to school”! If we have to miss school (and still get paid) – get on bloody Facebook and engage our kids…and use a bit of fun, yes!

      OK – I’m getting off the point! But, I thınk I am more critical of TEACHers like this – TEACHers that use “games” as a reward (for keeping quiet and doing as one is told) or as a 10-minute “filler” at the end of the day…on Friday. TEACHers like my “digital gamification cheerleader” – are passionate (and this I love) – but passionate about the “wrong things” (e.g. giving a “sexy” speech on a buzz-word without engaging me – or the tomato-throwers) 😉

      That having been said, the exercise I did – of reviewing “my beliefs” was so powerful (for me)…rather than “talking up” a hot topic…engage others to see the benefits of that topic for me as TEACHer…and my LEARNers!

      OMG…that’s a “rant” – init?


      • A rant or not a rant. Your post made me revisit something I was forgetting to include in my must-do reflection b4 the next semester comes up.

        and as usual, engaging way of writing. I love your writing style. 🙂 Makes me smile while I read and reflect on what you have written which is real fun for me. Even when I don’t really get your point the first time (like the SMART post for example), I still react the same – I laugh here and there.

        Talking about reflection, I am getting behind with that.

        Rosie 😉

      • TY Rosie – no, my reply to Laurence was the “rant” (he does that to me) 😉

        There are many thunks I need to take a second or third thunk over – what matters is how we ADAPT to those co-thunks 😉


        P.S: Still thunking about your first comment – very insightful…more of us should do what you do sooooo naturally, too 😉

      • Thx Rosie – I saw the longer reply and had a quick look. Will get a longer comment as soon as I come up for air 😉


  2. Hi Tony,

    I took a course last semester which the main discussion was Games applied in Education as more of an ally.

    People do get enthusiastic about the word game in an amazing way. And gamification came up in the course as well. This was not a language teacher course though, we had teachers from all segments of education and I happened to connect to two guys (who are professors in different kinds of courses that has a lot to say positively about games and gamification), but never as something as an end itself… more like the means to achieve your goals. Just like all other medias we have been using in language teaching so far, I guess. So, I have no problem with neither of them, if not over-emphasized.

    Then, as the course went on and people were advocating video-games so vigorously, I decided to take my 9th graders into the discussion and asked them to tell me what they thought of it. Can you guess what sort of things I learned from them? Nothing that really made me excited about digital games/gamification.

    This is what I learned about my 9th graders. I just wish I had this discussion in the beginning of the year, instead of the end. Another lesson I’ll be taking with me for next term that starts next month.

    Most of them played video games or games online. True. But only very few of them were addicted to it and only couple of them had developed competencies and abilities beyond the average student and games are not the point, but the challenge they face during the game which is really interesting. And those are the ones extremely demotivated by school. Most of the others managed to survive and pass.

    The other ones find games fun, but enjoy doing so many other things too that they would not like to have only games in the classroom. And most of them are not critical about what they hear, see or do. All for the pleasure of doing. And because of that, it is also true that something that is fun for one person might not be for another one. Most of them also said that a very challenging game is boring and they leave it for music, movie or surf the net. In the end the variety we have in the class is so great that it is impossible to do something that everyone will enjoy doing at the same time and same level. As this pleasure business of gaming does not sound for me as a solid theory, what does sound for me is concentrating on the goal of learning the language. Ah, I have learned also about collateral learning through that course which I believe to be a good concept, but it does not apply to everything. We cannot guarantee that students will learn the language you want them to learn (and by learn I mean to be able to use it whenever they feel they need to) just by playing this or that. Can we? Then, we go back to the basics again of interaction, engagement, and so on.

    Tools are not more important than those manipulating them – either by using them or benefiting from them.

    I haven’t taken the game/gamification reflection as seriously as some educators have yet. But it gave me the heads up about a student profile I couldn’t understand before. So for all it is worth, it gave me food for thought and the desire to investigate it as a tool with my students on board. Even though I do not plan to miss the point and right in the start of the term as I always do, start the dialogue with simple questions ( I know, I know, not so simple especially for teens, some will say): but not in a straight forward manner I work with these questions: “why are you here?” “What do you expect from the course and me?” And I tell them from the beginning, very kindly and supportive what I expect to happen: Them learning English, them improving from here to one or to steps up, but I expect improvement and so should they”. And yeah, teens do know pretty well what they want. Even if what they want is not what we want. They can tell you without a problem. At least my students do. We should not take them for granted. And they know how responsable they are for their part of the deal. Now, if what I find out right in the beginning is that we are not on the same page on the learning English, then, things will need to be built from there. It is pretty organic, pretty demmanding and challenging. I want to learn though, how I can be more objective with them in dealing with their feedback or when I fail to engage a group of teens that clearly see no point in being in the classroom to study (complain from all teachers in all subjects). I had a group like this last semester. And it was hard to keep up with them. It was an interesting mixing, they were so different from each other.

    Maybe gamification would have worked better?

    Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll never know.

  3. At the heart of teaching and learning is the need for a teacher to know why he/she is doing that which is being done. In the case of gamification, the lesson should NOT be about the game, it should be about the learning.

    Say, for example, you want students to talk about possible imaginary settings for stories. They could play something like Minecraft for ideas – but only play it for a short 5 minutes or so. The objective is to observe the world and be able to describe it. If this were the objective, 10% of the class time would be spent playing, 20% would be identifying key vocabulary, and 70% would be used discussing and using the vocabulary in the context of writing stories.

    I often use both online and board math games for math instruction. While the games are set up as win-lose, I can change the emphasis by saying this: “As you and your partner play, I want you to discuss which strategies you are learning and which seem most effective. Your ‘ticket out the door’ today is for you and your partner to verbally tell me at least one strategy that worked.” Suddenly, the game isn’t about the game, it is about the mathematical thinking.

    I went through a Coursera course on Gamification. I was interested to learn that game-makers consider anything as simple as “badges” as gamification. Sites like Biblionasium (a kids site much like Shelfari) have students earn badges for reading certain amounts of time per week, reading various genres, and more. That would be classified as “gamification” even though a student is really only playing against him- or herself.

    Just more food for thought :).

    • Hi Janet – I did that course too, and thought it gave a good, balanced view of the field. I agree that awarding badges per se is pointsification, not gamification. I don’t know where this obsession with badges in the gamification communioty comes from, particualrly when you consider that hardly any actual games have badges. Badges are something I associated with the Scouts, not with games.

    • Thx Janet,

      Sorry for the delay in coming back to you 😉 I loved what you said about how you “use” boardgames – like you, I believe it is strategies like those that can help us move from the more simple “win-lose mentality” we see in so many games (or approaches to gamification – of anything).

      Like Rose, you talked about signing up for a course on “gamification”. I have not done that (yet) but I’d be interested to know what the course set out to TEACH you – and what it was that you actually LEARNed.

      Take care,


      • Hi Tony,
        The course begins by defining gamification – the definition was broader than I imagined. Then it delves into the psychology behind it and how games might be designed. I’ve been thinking about how one might use a fantasy land like Minecraft to teach writing. May never come to anything, but interesting to think about.

  4. I too gave a presentation on gamification (in EAP) though I was less enthusiastic than the speaker you describe. (It’s at in case anyone’s interested.) I think saying everything should be taught through games is as absurd as saying everything should be taught through Socratic questioning or reading comprehension exercises.

    What people often miss, though, is that a game (as I say in the presentation) is “a structured activity designed to promote play.” Too much gamification focuses on the game mechanics while forgetting the intention to facilitate play. On the other hand, as you imply, play is an optimal mental state that we cannot maintain all the time, and by definition it is something done for its own sake, with any practical benefits being mere side effects (that’s why compulsory sports as school are often more like torture than play).

    So yes, we want to increase the play element in education, but it has natural limits, I think.

    • Cheers Robin – will check that one out (I think I may have seen it – the one from last year)?

      Love your definition – “play” – BTW! Playfullness can be built into almost everything – a game or not!


  5. People,

    A friend of mine has also let me know about another post on “games” – with the same title (almost) on Steve Wheeler’s blog.

    Thought I’d share this with everyone, too:

    Take care,


  6. Hi Tony, What a great post — how brave to bare yourself so thoroughly! (And thanks, I will want to reread your post a couple of times to absorb and ponder your long list of beliefs.)

    Although I’ve heard of gamification, I didn’t really know what it was. Found a paper here:

    Click to access Lee-Hammer-AEQ-2011.pdf

    Not sure if that’s a fair representation of gamification in general, but I’m using it as a starting point.

    Like you, Tony, I felt uncomfortable with what I was reading. I mean, I’m all for being playful (using curiosity, humor and imagination … maybe a touch of irreverence) and playing games. I like Janet’s approach, where games might be used to exercise a particular skill or illustrate a principle. When we’ve played “competitive” games in class, my adult learners generally don’t care who wins. We forget to keep score and people will give hints to their “opponents” … Often, the game is just an excuse to use language (teams discuss their choices and agree on one, etc.). My learners like puzzles and mysteries, too. I don’t disagree that games can help sharpen critical thinking skills, etc.

    What bothers me is at a higher level. The paper defines gamification as ‘the use of game mechanics, dynamics, and frameworks to promote desired behaviors’. The authors state that gamification is already used in non-school environments — they note that “players” can earn rewards (discounts) for going to certain stores, for example. Yes, fast food chains have used something like this for decades: “Players” are motivated to go through the drive-thru again and again to collect game pieces, “earning” a free drink or a discount for their efforts. But they seek the big prize: that one elusive game piece that will produce the payoff. It’s not about the food at all (and it’s sooo not about nutrition!).

    The paper cites a high dropout rate and suggests that ‘gamification may be able to motivate students to learn better and to care more about school’. Is that what the goal is, to care more about school? Seems to me that that’s like caring more about going through the drive-thru. Later, the authors say: ‘gamification projects offer the opportunity to experiment with rules, emotions and social roles’ and then they list a number of behavior-reward situations that a teacher can set up. In other words, the ones doing the experimentation are the teachers, not the learners. On p. 3, they reiterate that the goal is ‘to shape learners’ behavior’ and they repeat the assertion that the learner’s goal is ‘to master school’. Wouldn’t this school-focused goal really belong to an administrator? It doesn’t seem to care about what the learner does after the diploma is handed out, but it does address the administrator’s problem with dropout rates. This is not motivation but manipulation.

    Finally, the paper’s introductory paragraph contains the most personally disturbing statement of all — that a ‘visionary’ named Schell imagines a world where every facet of daily life has become gamified, ‘from brushing one’s teeth to exercise’. Your philosophy may vary, but my opinion of how to find life satisfaction is pretty much the opposite. While abstraction has its uses, I think it’s healthiest to choose (or move toward) direct experience whenever possible!

    Again, I’m really only looking at one paper. It’ll be interesting to read more. Thank you so much for raising the question! Kathy

    • Kathy, there’s a lot of interesting literature coming out on serious games, game-based learning and gamification (with some people regarding them as very different things while others see the first two as examples of the third). Check out Jane McGonigal for advocacy of games applied to almost everything and Ian Bogost for a searing critique of gamification – what he terms “exploitationware”.

    • Kathy,

      No, not brave at all 😉 I was actually struggling at the time – it made sense for me to do that. And, you know what – it really did help 😉

      As you note, I think there is a big difference between being a “PLAYer (who LEARNs)” and being a “LEARNer (who plays)” – since that post I have been doing a bit of research on the main “motivators” for PLAYers…and thunking about how many of them are true for LEARNers. I think I bit off more than I could chew there…and need a bit more time to process those thunks 😉


  7. Thank you very much for the links! Will check them out. A very interesting subject, it has been occupying my mind a lot since Tony posted! Kathy

  8. I watched McGonigal’s presentation first and my sense of uneasiness shifted to incredulity. I appreciated your sharing the link to Bogost’s article. I’m interested to know that there’s another approach to the use of games (“serious games”) that doesn’t align itself with the “gamification” movement. I wonder if it’s an expansion of the many “serious games” that already contribute so much to our world … driver’s education and space flight simulations, for example. We have also had constructive and effective role-playing games since at least the early 70s when I remember playing as environmental activists and business owners. (I also did D&D somewhat later. That’s simulated vs. simulation. Looks away from reality.)

    Bogost includes another link to a post on Slate by Heather Chaplin where she counters Ms. McGonigal more directly:

    It occurred to me later that gambling is also referred to as gaming, and people don’t only volunteer their time, they PAY to do it. There’s a reason that there are hotlines and twelve-step groups devoted to gambling addiction. Certainly not all players are addicts, but there is a buzz (McGonigal calls it “bliss”) that comes with hitting the jackpot, um I mean “productivity” or epic win”!

    Thank you so much for the links, and to Tony for raising the question!!

    • I think Chaplin’s response to McGonigal is a little unfair, and indicates that she hasn’t read the book carefully (or maybe she hasn’t read it at all and just watched the talks).

      • Yes, it seemed pretty harsh. I liked her other TED talk better, but I don’t see it as a strong argument for games. I agree, it’s only fair to read the book, though!

  9. Hey, Tony, I apologize for the one-person flurry of posts … Just wanted to mention that Robin’s video was also very helpful.

    Robin, I like the perspective you take: the primary purpose of making an activity more game-like being to bring an element of play into the classroom. That’s why I do it, and I think evidence of success is when learners laugh a lot and don’t really care about the score too much. I laughed out loud at the end when you described the nightmare scenario of administrators getting all caught up in “gamification” … exactly!

    • No worries, Kathy – I am happy to see so much “engagement” between everyone that is taking the time to comment on this one. I have been a bit tied up of late and my own “planned comments on the actual comments” are being added to the old to-do-list 😉

      Thank you (and Robin and Tim, too) for sharing even more bits of bedtime reading and “thunking” 😉


  10. Here’s a great site that explains gamification with real world business examples:

    The application of game dynamics and mechanics within an educational context could in fact take place with minimal materials and with the complete absence of tech. I’m of the opinion that ‘gamification’ operates best on the level of ‘invisible immersion’ rather than coercion. The concept of ‘play’ is similarly one that seems to achieve the most when it occurs unannounced. I recall the reaction I got when I’d explain to my my students that ‘We’re going to play a game’ (cue groans). When interactions taking place within a classroom or business are being motivated and expressed by the dynamics of games, however, the ‘play’ element is woven implicitly into those exchanges.

    I don’t think that a gamified learning environment and real world learning experiences are necessarily mutually exclusive (think about boy scout badges for example; it’s the application of game dynamics, but the scout still has to learn how to put up that tent).

    It is fundamental that the reasons for gamifying a learning environment or experience are well thought out and have motivations/objectives of their own. If I may (mis)use Newton’s laws on the conservation of energy, perhaps ‘fun’ is the energy that is released from the process of combining relevant, engaging learning content with a creative, reflective teacher/learner relationship. I’m sure there’s a formula there somewhere.

    • “Think about boy scout badges for example; it’s the application of game dynamics, but the scout still has to learn how to put up that tent”
      A valid point, though I don’t think scout badges have anything to do with games – more likely adopted from the military. Despite the gamification movements obsession with badges, I can’t think of any actual game that uses badges, though some online games have things that are roughly analogous.

      • Disagree. Although it was a fairly puerile example for me to give, badges represent the standard Challenge >> Achievement >> Reward transaction inherent in many games across many platforms. Online learning platforms use badges to mark achievement (Codecademy, Duolingo) as do more socially networked education platforms like Edmodo (in which you can create your own). In more widely played, mainstream games for badges read ‘upgrades’ or ‘level ups’. The point being put forward is that the gamified learning environment is not incompatible with learning through real life experiences. If anything it gives all involved a way of expressing learning outcomes and sharing ideas for moving ahead.

      • “badges represent the standard Challenge >> Achievement >> Reward transaction inherent in many games across many platforms.”
        Well yes, but Challenge >> Achievement >> Reward is found all over the place, and is not specific to games. Maybe I’m quibbling, but I worry that too many people confuse games and behaviour modifcation. Or maybe I just don’t like badges (despite having seen a few good implementations). “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!”

      • haha… Nice! Yeah, that is to say that badges represent that transaction rather than they are exclusive exemplifiers of it. I think we are aiming at the same point here though: that games and game dynamics (gamification markers) are different things. As you said, reward systems occur in all manner of contexts, not just games. Spot on. That’s why I think it’s important to make a clear distinction between playing games and gamifying a non-game context.

      • Boys, boys….here’s me giving everyone a bit o’space to reflect and add their two cents (actually, I’ve been trying to find time to respond to all the GREAT thunks and ideas people have been sharing)…so, let’s play nice 😉

        Yes, the “motivators” behind many online games can be a bit of an “issue” for many of us EDUcators…and the whole idea of “badges” in education is still up for grabs (either as a replacement for diplomas or degrees or simply as a way to keep “kids” in the game) 😉

        For many teachers I think perhaps it is the spirit of “competition” and “winning” (look what happened to Charlie Sheen!) that are often the challenges here. Educational games, afterall, need to do more than offer us a sexy means to deliver the same content we see in many lectures or stand-and-deliver classrooms – they need to help LEARNers become better human beings (while having fun), too! I think all of us want to see “progress” being recognised…the question is whether we can do this in a more collaborative environment (I for one will not be supporting any ELL or educational games that involve cutting off heads and wearing them around one’s neck – even if it is with a light-sabre and if that said head is of the “Sith” variety) and draw on tools of recognition that celebrate collaboration and more “social” or “shared LEARNing”.

        As I said in the original post – these issues need to be resolved at the level of beliefs, assumptions and values. Much of the gaming industry and the wider “gamification” movement is being driven by “sales” (sadly)…many of their tactics are driven by playing to the less attractive side of the “human animal”. Gamification in education has to evolve in line with our wider moral imperative. However, and as Dan Pink noted recently – we TEACHers are also in the “sales game” as “sellers of ideas” and “moving others” towards better thunking, better living…better LEARNing.


  11. Great discussion here. I need to revisit/read/reflect on it. I’ll be back soon Tony. So much new comments to read and reflect on. 🙂

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