A colleague recently queried: “How would you support that Jeopardy type games (Quizzes, etc.) are not really games?” And while I think I’ve discussed this before, I had a chance to noodle on it on a train trip. I started diagramming, and came up with the following characterization.
I separated out two dimensions. The first is differentiating between knowledge and skills. I like how Van MerriÃ«nboer talks about the knowledge you need and the complex problems you apply that knowledge to. Here I’m separating ‘having’ knowledge from ‘using’ knowledge, focusing on application. And, no surprise, I’m very much on the side of using, or doing, not just knowing.
The second dimension is whether the learning is essentially very true to life, or exaggerated in some way. Is it direct, or have we made some effort to make it engaging?
Now, for rote knowledge, if we’re contextualizing it, we’re making it more applied (e.g. moving to the skills side), so really what we have to do is use extrinsic motivation. We gamify knowledge test (drill and kill) and make it into Jeopardy-style quiz shows. And while that’s useful in very limited circumstances, it is not what we (should) mean by a game. Flashy rote drill, using extrinsic motivation, is a fall-back, a tactic of last resort. We can do better.
What we should mean by a game is to take practice scenarios and focus on ramping up the intrinsic motivation, tuning the scenario into a engaging experience. We can use tools like exaggeration, humor, drama, and techniques from game design, literature, and more, to make that practice more meaningful. We align it with the learners interests (and vice-versa), making the experience compelling.
Because, as the value chain suggests, tarting up rote knowledge (which is useful if that’s what we need, and sometimes it’s important, e.g. medical terminology) is better than not, but not near as valuable as real practice via scenarios, and even better if we tune it into a meaningful experience. Too often we err on the side of knowledge instead of skills, because it’s easy, because we’re not getting what we need from the SME, because that’s what our tools do, etc, but we should be focusing on skills, because that’s what’s going to make a difference to our learners and ultimately our organizations.
What we should do is be focusing on better able to do, moving to the skill side. Tarted up quiz shows are not really games, they’re simplistic extrinsic response trainers. Real, serious, games translate what Sid Maier said about games – “a series of interesting decisions” – into a meaningful experience: a series of important decisions. Practicing those are what will make the difference you care about.