…about THAT Camp – Games in two days!  Lots of friends and colleagues I’m looking forward to seeing again, and hoping to engage with lots of great discussion about games in higher ed as well. 🙂

One thing I’m intrigued by already is the 3D GameLab tool for shaping projects, assignments, and coursework into experience (xp) -based systems of quests.  (For those who may be following along, this is a much more polished and well-built version of the by-the-seat-of-our-pants system Kirk Everist and I used to manage our Immersion Media course back in Spring 2009.)  The tool is in closed beta at the moment, but one of the creators is a THAT Camp attendee and has provided us with a preview version to play with.

One of the quests our coordinator (Dungeon Master?) posed for us is to watch Tom Chatfield’s TED talk on “7 Ways Games Reward the Brain” and comment on it in some “digital reflection.”  So let this serve as that (it’s 25 points on the line here).

I find the factual recounting of the data Chatfield presents to be accurate, at least anecdotally from my own gameplay experience, as well as in comparison to what I’ve seen other games and psychology researchers report.  But I find the overall tone of his talk to be overly instrumentalist in a way that degrades the complexity and depth of human thought, learning, and experience.  He presents these data as if now we simply need to apply what games researchers have learned about keeping players playing to education, using the same methods to keep learners learning.

But the problem with this angle on the issue is that game designers, especially those he features (especially World of Warcraft designers at Blizzard), always have at least a passing interest (and quite often much more intense than that) in profiting from players’ play.  But if educators are invested in profiting directly from learners’ learning, all kinds of undesirable outcomes accrue.  (Some of you may argue that I’m naive to suggest this — call me a romantic or an idealist if you like, but for me education and profit should not be linked in any practical sense.)  So the basic analogy is at least incomplete and problematic.

I would argue that what quest-based learning does offer for education is an alternative to a system of evaluation that is arguably even worse, and that is the A-F assignment-based system.  That dinosaur encourages teaching to the test, skill and drill, brain-dump cramming and purging, and a host of other fundamentally useless skills for students, whereas quest-based evaluation can, in the best circumstances, allow students to create chains of skills and learning into larger, more complex systems of thought and experience that can be more in line with the way people actually encounter, address, and solve problems in today’s complex world.  And it is for this reason that I’m still hanging around flirting with these ideas.