I love video games

I would like to dedicate this post to my former pupils Zak and Sapphire Boswell. I was their teacher in England ten years ago and thanks to technology we are in touch now. I found them on twitter a few weeks ago and we are also in contact through facebook. I invited them to visit us in Madrid, as it would have been great to meet again after so long and introducing them to my pupils at the school now, but unfortunately it is not going to be possible yet.

They are twin brothers and they were in the same class (my class) at St. Edmund’s Community Foundation School (King’s Lynn, Norfolk). It was my first year as a teacher, so everything was very intense and I can remember certain things very vividly. A beautiful teaching story in which I could witness, amongst other things, how they took care of each other in such a stressing place. Let’s not forget that schools can be at times a tough place to be in for both pupils and teachers…

However, what really makes me write this post is that only a few hours ago, Zack ‘liked’ a video in facebook in which the song ‘Live like a warrior’ and images from a video game are used to make an amazing demonstration on how educational video games can be. Usually, parents and teachers think that there is no learning in playing video games, but many people believe that there are loads of things that can be learnt from them. Have a look at this video and read the text below, you might change your mind about video games!

‘I love video games. I’m also slightly in awe of them. I’m in awe of their power in terms of imagination, in terms of technology, in terms of concept. But I think, above all, I’m in awe at their power to motivate, to compel us, to transfix us, like really nothing else we’ve ever invented has quite done before. And I think that we can learn some pretty amazing things by looking at how we do this. And in particular, I think we can learn things about learning.

The video games industry is far and away the fastest growing of all modern media. From about 10 billion in 1990, it’s worth 50 billion euros globally today, and it shows no sign of slowing down. In four years’ time, it’s estimated it’ll be worth over 80 billion euros. That’s about three times the recorded music industry. This is pretty stunning, but I don’t think it’s the most telling statistic of all. The thing that really amazes me is that, today, people spend about eight billion real dollars a year buying virtual items that only exist inside video games.

Now if we look at what’s going on in someone’s head when they are being engaged, two quite different processes are occurring.On the one hand, there’s the wanting processes. This is a bit like ambition and drive — I’m going to do that. I’m going to work hard. On the other hand, there’s the liking processes, fun and affection and delight and an enormous flying beast with an orc on the back.

And the point is really that we evolved to be satisfied by the world in particular ways. Over tens and hundreds of thousands of years, we evolved to find certain things stimulating, and as very intelligent, civilized beings, we’re enormously stimulated by problem solving and learning. But now, we can reverse engineer that and build worlds that expressly tick our evolutionary boxes. So what does all this mean in practice? Well, I’ve come up with a few things that, I think, show how you can take these lessons from games and use them outside of games. The first one is very simple: experience bars measuring progress. Second, multiple long and short-term aims. Third, you reward effort. Fourth, feedback, and fifth, the element of uncertainty.

As you probably know, the neurotransmitter associated with learning is called dopamine. It’s associated with reward-seeking behavior. And something very exciting is just beginning to happen in places like the University of Bristol in the U.K., where they are beginning to be able to model mathematically dopamine levels in the brain. And what this means is we can predict learning, we can predict enhanced engagement, these windows, these windows of time, in which the learning is taking place at an enhanced level. And two things really flow from this. The first has to do with memory, that we can find these moments. When someone is more likely to remember, we can give them a nugget in a window. And the second thing is confidence, that we can see how game-playing and reward structures make people braver, make them more willing to take risks, more willing to take on difficulty, harder to discourage. This can all seem very sinister. But you know, sort of “our brains have been manipulated; we’re all addicts.” The word “addiction” is thrown around. There are real concerns there. But the biggest neurological turn-on for people is other people. This is what really excites us. In reward terms, it’s not money; it’s not being given cash — that’s nice –it’s doing stuff with our peers, watching us, collaborating with us.

I just want to end by suggesting a few ways in which these principles could fan out into the world. Let’s start with business. I mean, we’re beginning to see some of the big problems around something like business are recycling and energy conservation. We’re beginning to see the emergence of wonderful technologies like real-time energy meters. And I just look at this, and I think, yes, we could take that so much further by allowing people to set targets by setting calibrated targets, by using elements of uncertainty, by using these multiple targets, by using a grand, underlying reward and incentive system, by setting people up to collaborate in terms of groups, in terms of streets to collaborate and compete,to use these very sophisticated group and motivational mechanics we see.

In terms of education, perhaps most obviously of all, we can transform how we engage people. We can offer people the grand continuity of experience and personal investment. We can break things down into highly calibrated small tasks. We can use calculated randomness. We can reward effort consistently as everything fields together. And we can use the kind of group behaviors that we see evolving when people are at play together, these really quite unprecedentedly complex cooperative mechanisms.

And in the end, it’s this word, “engagement,” that I want to leave you with. It’s about how individual engagement can be transformed by the psychological and the neurological lessons we can learn from watching people that are playing games. But it’s also about collective engagement and about the unprecedented laboratory for observing what makes people tick and work and play and engage on a grand scale in games. And if we can look at these things and learn from them and see how to turn them outwards, then I really think we have something quite revolutionary on our hands.’ (Summary of the TED talk ‘7 ways games reward the brain’)

Zak and Shapphire

Zak and Shapphire Boswell

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  • Comentarios (2)
    • Elena
    • 5/04/13

    Qué pena que tus ex-alumnos no puedan venir. Me apetecía conocerlos.

  1. Dios mio, pensé que habías escrito tú todo ese tocho sobre videojuegos !, que susto :).

    Nota: hablan de cierto tipo de video juegos, PERO existen muchos tipos de videojuegos y no creo que todos vayan por ahi. Lo digo como jugon.

    Por otro lado, no estoy de acuerdo en que “lo que más motiva a la gente, es la gente”, -ojala- en el campo de los videojuegos por ejemplo, hay cierto tipo de juegos -multijugador, mmorpg – que tienen mucho gancho por eso mismo, por la gente, pero otros que no.

    Desde luego estoy de acuerdo en esos cinco puntos que comentas, pero hay un punto que no menciona, que se podría decir que es similar a lo que estimula el cine, la television -en menor y peor medida- y la literatura, que es la construcción de una realidad alternativa -a medida- donde tu puedes gobernar tu destino de una manera “mas justa” que la realidad presente. Ese es el factor que hace que haya muchísima gente enganchada a juegos multijugador, o la literatura, por poner un ejemplo diferente. Te recomiendo una serie muy buena que habla de esto mismo: Caprica.

    Los juegos del mañana no son mas que la evolución de alto tan básico como la literatura y el teatro, una forma de huir a un mundo mejor, pero mucho mas interactivo y placentero. Te lo dice a un jugón. Eso tiene su lado bueno y malo, y teniendo en cuenta la industria que hay detrás cada vez será mas importante.

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