Gaming and Education

2014 was described by GamesTM as a ‘transitional’ year in gaming, there were lots of new things. New platforms, business models, discussions and technologies. On paper it sounds like exciting times and I guess it was, but with most periods of great change comes a little pain.Well-known industry vet Jonathan Burroughs who has seen many years in the industry come and go summed 2014 as such:

2014 has been sullied by the firestorm of bigotry and misinformation raging on social media

He was of course referring to #GamerGate, an ugly affair, the hashtag apparently concerned with ethics in video game journalism yet riddled with sexism and misogyny. While I don’t want to go in to detail of the controversy one thing was very clear. The video games industry moves fast, serious issues and talking points arise but it is moving so fast that onlookers are confused, not sure what the issues are and what is being proposed to tackle them. Following #GamerGate was difficult, the misinformation on the subject and the many layers of inception style ‘misinformation about misinformation’ muddying the water. I think that Brianna Wu in her now infamous interview in Develop was right, that gaming has been a boys’ club for 30 years and I think it is time for a change, and while 2014 might unfortunately be remembered for a bitter culture war we can hope that 2015 is that year of change.

The way in which a movement used misinformation to defend its elite club was not the only talking point in 2014. The backlash of using ‘gamification’ or ‘viral mechanisms’ to prey on the emotion of players or on addictive personalities reached a new high, the term ‘exploitationware’, proposed by Ian Bogost, started to replace gamification, the EU stepped in and made Apple and Google change their description policies, even South Park got in on the act. While these techniques are still raking in big money for publishers it feels like we found a voice and started to tell publishers that ‘paying to win’ just isn’t good enough.

Also there was the hardware! At the start of the year we were all playing with Oculus Rift beta units and waiting in line for a go on Google Glass, at the end of the year VR was summed up by Research Analysist Micheal Pachter as being like HDTV in the late 90s, by which I gather he means its there and we can all be excited, but don’t expect the casual user to get involved for a few years yet. Which while I think was mostly right but didn’t take in to account that new technologies such as the Oculus Rift give us much more opportunities to create stuff, rather than just TV style consume stuff.

I could go on and on about 2014 in gaming, but I guess the common theme I am getting at is that it all moves so fast. The boys club was challenged, the EU stepped in to review business models, the term gamification became the term exploitationware, new virtual reality hardware was released, used and evaluated.

I’m not sure moving so fast is always a good thing, the games industry does move fast because it is a relatively young industry and there is lots of money to be made. I think it also moves fast because it is so many peoples passion, both the people who play games and people who are employed in the industry want to move fast because its what they enjoy doing. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better if it just slowed down to think.

These last few weeks I’ve seen a lot of tweets about games in education, questions like ‘should we use gamification techniques in education?’ or ‘how do technologies like the Oculus Rift in education?’.

As somebody who has survived the great gaming transitional year of 2014 it is tempting to claim that you know all the answers. Tell those educational technologists to stop, we’ve already decided that gamification is bad and that you have to call it explotationware now. Or perhaps it is the other way around, maybe as somebody employed in an educational institution I should be heading back to reddit/r/truegaming and telling them to stop relabeling things, we are going to fast and that there are a bunch of clever people in education not rushing ahead, instead they are taking their time to think about how this stuff might be useful in a way we haven’t thought of. I guess I was just glad to see these questions from education being asked on Twitter and a hope for 2015 in gaming is seeing one big conversation become the end of a boys’ club.

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