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UPDATED: What If Schools Were More Like Video Games?

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What if schools were more like video games?

Think about it. You wouldn’t have a problem with attendance. As a matter of fact, it would be hard to get the kids to go home for the day. And you probably wouldn’t spend so much time rounding up dropouts and truants.

Education experts these days are talking about surveying students to find out what is needed to improve teaching and learning. But teachers don’t have to take surveys to know most young people in their classrooms of just about all ages would rather be playing video games than going to school.

So what if schools were more like video games?

I ran this thought by my 12-year-old daughter, and she wrinkled her nose as if the idea smelled bad. “Eeeeewww.”

“You’re just saying that,” I said, “because you’ve been forced to play ‘educational games’ that are only slightly better than regular lessons and nowhere near as good as the games you really want to play.”

She definitely agreed with that statement. So-called “educational games” by-and-large stink.

“But what if school was a video game that you would choose to play even if no one made you?”

At first that possibility seemed beyond her comprehension. But she thought about it a bit. Then she told me, “They should make it like Portal.” [UPDATE July 26, 2012: The developers of Portal are now making it available free for teachers to use in the classroom.]

Interestingly, Portal is one of the games that Jane McGonigal — a professor who studies the future of game design — features in her book, Reality is Broken. In her book, she describes how so many people — children and adults — prefer game playing to reality, and suggests that game designers might be able to improve the way we go about doing school.

In Portal, McGonigal and my 12-year-old both point out, there are no boring lectures or directions or explanations about what you are supposed to do in the game. You simply wake up in an empty room that seemingly has no exit, and you start exploring. As you explore, you learn the rules of the game and how to get better and better at playing. That sounds a lot like those elusive higher-order thinking skills schools are having a hard time teaching these days.

During the course of the game, you also learn that “The cake is a lie.”

As the game progresses, the player is enticed with the offer of a reward at the end: cake. Only there is no cake. And — you know what? — most players don’t mind. Because the goal isn’t to win and eat the cake. The goal is to play. To learn.

So what if schools were more like video games?

“The cake is a lie.”


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Art Credit: KC Education Enterprise | Photo Credit: Dreamstime


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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.


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