Games and Completion

This is another post from the "Stuck in an Evernote folder" collection.  I wrote it in 2012, but it still resonates today.  Fortunately, the dissertation and the renovation are done.  Their are still a ton of errands to finish, though.

As I look at my blog with its most-recent post from ages ago, I think about the glory of completing things.  I have a renovation going on right now, a dissertation in its final version and a hundred and two errands to run for a household without a house.  Now the sad thing is that none of these things are completed, which is a drag.  

Conversely, finishing things feels excellent.  I'm not a checklist-er who obsesses about filling in every possible box, but I know that being done, achieving the end of a project, is a wonderful thing, even if that project is picking up milk at the store.  Maybe its only a relief of the tension that comes from lack of completion, but it still feels good.  

So, what does this have to do with my (admittedly loose) themes of learning and design and games?  It's the last one.  Games. Games are a buffet of completion.  Level completion makes you feel all good inside.  Beating a boss is similarly rewarding to cleaning your room, or finishing a chapter, or a long list of other pragmatic accomplishments.  Games are even better than those real-world* completions.  Because games are designed to be challenging but ultimately achievable.  Games have been worked on to tweak the level of frustration and balance them. (Especially those designed by Blizzard.)  Real life tasks aren't balanced.  Some are so boring that they are not engaging.  Some are so challenging that they are demotivating.  Life isn't very well designed.  

The lesson for education here isn't gamification.  At least, not the facile, score-keeping concept of gamification that is all too common out there.  As Ian Bogost describes it:  " Game developers and players have critiqued gamification on the grounds that it gets games wrong, mistaking incidental properties like points and levels for primary features like interactions with behavioral complexity."  The lesson here is the progression of challenge rather than the awarding of points.  For education, its building activities with little wins and big wins.  With some easily achieved goals and some goals that require assistance. A good lesson works like a good game level - a series of small challenges and a big boss challenge that takes more work but is achievable, with work.  If it is done right, it pulls us into the next lesson, the way starting a level of a game pulls us deeper into the game.  


*Games aren't real-world, they are the magic circle