A playable curriculum

After Dorien van U.NXT asked me to write a blog, I immediately had to think about the piece I wrote about education in my book “Gamification” in 2016. Reading it back, I was perplexed, because the U.NXT concept corresponds almost entirely to what I observed more than five years ago. Amazingly, I happen to be involved in, what I believe to be, a wonderful initiative. The following came at the end of 2015 from a flow from my keyboard.

The current education system no longer meets modern requirements. And if we’re not careful, the current system will become redundant. As soon as better alternatives emerge, young people will gratefully accept them. Knowledge is currently everywhere up for grabs. Initiatives such as Coursera, Khan Academy, DuoLingo, also known as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) perfectly fills this need. Much can be learned online; it is free and much more “up to date” than what our current learning system is offering. As soon as this is combined with Gamification, it will be much more fun than the current education system, in addition to being available for free. It is for this reason that Gamification will have a huge impact on our education system. Children play video games, with some even struggling to quit. It is a natural urge that inherently drives them. Of course, parents and teachers are not always happy if too much time is lost with gaming. However, little can be done about it; it’s fighting a losing battle. Playing is in our nature! Applying Gamification within education makes it a lot easier to align the teaching material and level with the individual and this is something that’s desperately needed. No one is the same and yet we push every pupil or student through the same system. They must all show the same results, within the same timeframe. Advanced students are not challenged by this method, while late bloomers are working hard to keep up. In games it does not matter how quickly someone participates and picks up the game, in fact, it automatically responds to the knowledge level of each individual. Individualized education is within reach thanks to Gamification, with all the positive consequences.

We should ask ourselves much more about why our children have the urge to play, and, as mentioned earlier, why we are not taking advantage of this! The answer has in fact already been given. Playing is fun! It’s really that simple. A game enables the player to actually experience a particular situation, and as a result, a player can develop the feeling that he or she has accomplished something and can be part of something. That makes this medium unique. For decades we have been conditioned by a certain philosophy that has its origins in the industrial age and that comes down to the fact that work is an extremely serious matter, whereby management can optimally monitor employee performances through a fixed organizational structure. Education must provide students who fit within this traditional organizational structure and philosophy. This results in strongly framed positions, which makes it easier to educate people for these positions. This approach yields a group of students who are all similar, without any form of individuality (Ford Model T). Technological developments have been going so fast recently that this methodology can no longer work. Nowadays, we need people who have a different opinion, and educational institutions have the task to deliver students who master the subjects of the future so that they can be of direct value for the labor market once they graduate, or they can confidently start their own company. No more Model T students, but students with unique skills that they have developed with the help of education from within their passion and talent. The game industry and education should actually join forces and produce high-quality “study games”. It is so obvious. As soon as constructive cooperation takes place, parents will start telling their children:

“You can finish playing that game, we’ll eat dinner a little later”

Not convinced? I will support my argument with two examples. My two oldest sons and I love football. In fact, we played football regularly. That is why we are interested in the game and everything related to it. My youngest son never played football and his interest in the real game was, until he became 17, much less than was the case with us. He is a very big fan of FIFA, and especially the player management part of this popular football game, where players can be bought and sold. As a result, his knowledge of the players and their specific individual characteristics which corresponds well with reality, is much greater than ours.

Various Formula 1 drivers explore the racetrack through racing games from their hotel room, and already race virtually in professional simulators. This can be considered a form of “Applied Gaming”, which is another way in which games can make a serious contribution. Applied Games usually translate reality into a game, which is often a simulation. With Gamification, game elements are added to reality. A clearly different approach, but the results are similar. Both concepts belong to the same family and often go well together. This offers potential drivers the opportunity to practice and race virtually at a very young age. This may explain how our Dutch pride, Max Verstappen, ended up in Formula 1 at the age of 17. This is something that was really unthinkable not too long ago.

Many believe that we are in a transition and I am one of those believers. We are moving from the information age to an age based on ideas. Knowledge is present everywhere and this has an impact on power relations. Trends can be observed within a spirit of the times. One notable trend is that almost the entire current generation is playing or has played video games. We know and see this all the time, but just shrug and do almost nothing with it.

People have been playing for thousands of years, long before the existence of these digital games. Not much has thus changed, except that modern man only plays digitally.

Playing comes as a second nature to humans. This is mainly because a lot of positive things can be achieved with games. Children learn a lot by playing, but as they grow older, game elements are being pushed to the background within the school system, even though playing has so many positive effects on students:

1. Learning ability: We play games voluntarily and with pleasure. Games contain specific mechanics and reward systems that let the player undergo an experience that causes Dopamine (a neurotransmitter) to be released into our brains. This causes a feeling of euphoria that enhances our cognitive ability. Players who have reached level 60 in World of Warcraft have developed skills that a non-player considers to be impossible. The game has become impossible to participate in for a person who is not trained by the game.

2. Confidence: Mistakes are accepted within games. In fact, mistakes are not a problem; players can simply try again. This mechanism is the most effective way to learn something. That is why I refer to mistakes as learning moments. Within most games, positive feedback encourages players to try again.

3. Transparency: Feedback, which the player does not always have the be aware of, makes the game and the process clear. It creates transparency. The progression and the goal become clear in a playful way and therefore becomes more achievable. The specific moment feedback is given on process is essential for this effect.

4. Cooperation: Multiplayer games promote and improve collaboration. Players must be able to oversee situations quickly. Additionally, they must communicate as fast and clear with others as is possible to achieve goals. If they fail to do so, the goal will not be achieved. Working together optimally is a necessity to move forward, something that naturally also applies to real life situations.

5. Creativity: Within Sandbox games (games where the player can move around freely, and, for example, can build anything they want) the possibilities seem endless. This appeals to an investigating player and stimulates imagination, which increases creativity. Converting the workplace into a playground for adults leads to a similar effect. This becomes a Sandbox for employees. This is a philosophy that is being embraced by Google.

6. Pleasure: Let’s not forget that playing is a very fun activity. The reason for which gamers sit behind a console is not shared by people at work. There is usually not much pleasure there. Having fun at work and knowing you are doing well is the best way to get into a good workflow. This creates a positive involved attitude and this in turn gives energy. Perhaps this is the most powerful effect that games can have on humans.

7. Perseverance: Many games create go-getters. It is not easy to reach the highest level, let alone defeat the “end-boss” (the final and most difficult opponent). There are many players who do not give up, even after frequent failures, and eventually reach the finish line. This is a characteristic that is useful in real life. We unwantedly fall down naturally but getting up again is something we have to do ourselves. Just a small boost at the right time can do wonders.

The present effects are wonderful ingredients for taking a modern society undergoing a transition to a higher level. Gamification is a fusion of game design techniques, mechanics, and/or a particular style. Due to gamification, these effects can also be achieved in the real world. The value of this speaks for itself.

Innovation is a form of survival and that is more important than ever in this new era.

The following is important for innovation: learning capacity, self-confidence, transparency, cooperation, creativity, energy, and perseverance. These effects are stimulated on humans by games. Gamification allows these effects to be applied in real-life situations. An additional advantage is that is appeals to gamers – which is a huge target group these days – who like to get their diploma in a playful way.