Are we gaming or just simulating?

As we Praxis Program fellows embark on just what exactly we want our version of the Ivanhoe Game to accomplish we’ve been doing some “research” – good old fashion game playing. However, I’ve noticed a sense of frustration within our play, or perhaps it is just me that becomes a bit frustrated with the games at this point. I think part of my frustration comes from limited time to devote to the process of the game. Since the rules of the games we’ve play thus far are limited or nonexistent, I’m often unclear about what exactly I should be doing and feel like I spend more time trying to figure out what’s going on than actually contributing. I’m also unsure if my “moves” are being received (and subsequently not enjoyed by the team) or just ignored all together. In the end my take away from our games is that it feels like we’re all playing our own game alongside one another without communicating what we are doing, why we’re doing it, and most importantly why we think it’s fun.

What I’m getting at here is that we call Ivanhoe a “game” but thus far, our gameplay doesn’t have any game-like properties. So one might ask, what is a game? Well in his blog, Digital Scholar Tom Chatfield provides a fairly clear definition:  “A game means submitting to an external set of rules defining particular things you are supposed to achieve: goals, achievements, points, a certain amount of exploration or action, kills, items, whatever.”  The use of the word “game” gets even more specific when applying it to a pedagogical framework. As Gredler (2004) argues, when we create games for learning they should be competitive exercises with the ability to win. Winning, she notes, should be based on existing knowledge or skill sets.  Perhaps this is where we run into trouble. As an interdisciplinary endeavor we seem to lack a common set of skills by which we could create challenges. Moreover, we seem hesitant to assign a leader over our games to outline what exactly is the goal and how one can achieve it. Finally, there lacks the element of competition that Gredler indicates is essential for differentiating between a game and a simulation.

Therefore, I think that what we’ve been doing up to this point is playing simulations. “Unlike games, simulations are evolving case studies of a particular social or physical reality. The goal, instead of winning, is to take a bona fide role, address the issues, threats, or problems arising in the simulation, and experience the effects of one’s decisions” (Gredler 573). While simulations are also fun, we must acknowledge the potential constraints of a simulation – most importantly that of time. If our goal is to use Ivanhoe in a classroom, this is less of an issue. Students could figure out their roles, address problems, and figure out the simulation while subsequently learning the topic at hand. However, if we’re wanting to create a tool that is used both for pedagogy and in a research setting among peers, time could be an issue. At an already hectic conference will attendees have time to figure out what’s going on, what role they should take, and devote time to contributing when their contributions might not be read or acknowledged?

So a big thing that I think we need to decide on is do we want to create a simulation or do we want to create a game? Perhpas we could do both – in a “Type 2” Platform we could provide links to each resource. But, if we think we want to create a game (as well as a simulation), isn’t it time we started playing games?

References: Gredler, M. E. (2004). Games and simulations and their relationships to learning. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research for educational communications and technology (2nd ed., pp. 571-82). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

I am a fourth year PhD candidate in the Sociology Department and am interested in the intersection between media and society. My specific sociological interests are media (as culture), gender, and inequality.

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