|Via NBCnews: the glory of the hardcore video gamer. Not
the kind of thing that’s ever going to challenge the Olympics
for public attention I think.
I’ve had a lot of trouble playing video games lately. My problem seems to be around that idea of scripted experience. If I’m playing a video game I’m working through a narrative someone else created. I enjoy narratives but what irks me about video games is they pretend to have an element of choice in them when in fact they don’t. They suggest that they are the next evolution in entertainment but the interactivity they offer is so limited that it’s really just a hidden script that you follow under the illusion of choice. Gamification in general seeks to use this illusion to hook people into otherwise tedious situations.
The first step away from video gaming occurred when I found I couldn’t get into single player games anymore. Even the good ones with epic narratives felt banal. I went to multi-player games for several years hoping that the human element would create choice, but I find that these too are scripted, and worse, they force players into scripted responses to the point where you can’t tell the players from the bots. When a game is so restrictive that it makes the people in it act like machines it’s not a game I care to play.
There is a particular situation in which we’re happy to turn people into bots if the illusion of engagement is preserved. That situation also happens to be seen as quite tedious by many of its participants. Education is eager to digitize if it ensures engagement, even if that engagement mimics the dimensionless engagement found in online activity. Standardized testing feeds this thinking, producing learning outcomes that are easily quantifiable as data even as they fail to demonstrate learning. Deep contextual human activities (like learning) are lost in simplistic digital data.
Doubt is cast on an individual teachers’ ability to teach a subject. Consistency is demanded in modern education as a result of this doubt and the slippery nature of digital information encourages this by eroding the space between classrooms and lessons. This is shown as some kind of great step forward in terms of fairness, but what it really does is reduce teaching (as it has done with many other human activities) to a vapid exchange of information, incidentally what digital machines do best.
We fill in templates, teach centralized material and are encouraged to sync how we teach it. Proof of success is found in standardized test scores. There is little interest in assessing teaching or learning in any other way.
This digital infection also carries the parasitic idea of gamification, usually championed by video game evangelists who believe that the structure of gaming can overcome every obstacle. Teachers are encouraged to design student success through scripted outcomes pretty much like a video game does. If the game you’re playing is designed to have you eventually win it isn’t much of a challenge and certainly isn’t something you can be proud of, but then modern learning isn’t about challenge, it’s about engagement. The idea of gamification makes me uneasy for this very reason. When we gamify situations that aren’t games I’m afraid that we pollute complex situations with the implied success found in most gaming outcomes. If education is supposed to prepare students for the world beyond school this isn’t going to do it.
If you offer open ended, ‘real’ experience many digital natives shy away from a situation where the rules can’t be gamed for advantage. The hacking mindset implies that the system is more important than the content. Perhaps that’s why I can’t play video games anymore. It’s hard to get lost in a narrative when you’re constantly looking at ways to subvert the delivery method.
Wilful suspension of disbelief is lost in the digital age. This is the root of the pessimism and disengagement you see in many students. When education becomes another process you hack to guaranty your own success it becomes increasingly impossible to do anything useful with it.
This grew out of Scripted Lives which itself grew out of Unscripted Moments. I’m pulling at a lot of threads here. I’ve been a fan of RPGs since I got into D&D when I was 10. I love sports and would describe myself as a serious gamer. I’ve spent most of my life learning digital technology so I’d hardly call myself a tech-hater either, but watching digital technology and gamification aiming for society wide acceptance has made me very uneasy.