I’m doing a course on coursera on Gaming and Learning and the assignment for the first week is to play a new game for 30 minutes and reflect on your experience. So … this is it. I run a Mind Sports Club at my school, so I’m not exactly a rank newbie, but I don’t really have the time to play games, so I’m not experienced either.
I chose to try to learn how to play Starcraft because I’ve played a bit of DotA/Warcraft before, and that’s what the kids in the club play all the time, but none of them plays Starcraft. What have I played in the strategy game genre before? Age Of Empires really and that’s it! I jumped into the tutorial with some trepidation – I’m a 50-something, and when I watch the kids playing DotA it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me! The tutorial took me through movement, combat, resource production, etc pretty painlessly. The right-click / left-click conventions were similar to other games so most of what was new was the terminology, background narrative, and getting used to what the graphic representation meant and what sort of thing one needed to do to do well in the game.
The tutorial was punctuated by the usual video narratives giving background exposition, and I guess helped set the scene. But I was still pretty nervous. Reading what I was seeing on the screen was not easy. The characters are small, and how do you know one from another? From experience I know that after playing for a bit it becomes familiar, but games have become more difficult for my middle-aged eyes to read!
At this point the fact that I was able to follow the game mechanics so easily calmed my anxieties, and I was able to concentrate on trying to figure out the most that I could about the framing story and game aims. And at that stage my 30 minutes was up …
What did I learn about how I learned? I learned by doing – that is probably the main factor, My fingers started to get used to the movements needed to perform actions quickly enough to be competitive in any game. My brain started to perceive patterns, and drawing on my experience with Age Of Empires I started to wonder about what my own strategy should be. Within moments I was thinking metacognitively.
I also learned immersively. I can’t really remember now, 24 hours later what any of the characters were called, or what the gas they mine is called, but I do have a sense of what it is to be immersed in that world, and some sense of what things I need to be doing to succeed.
And I learned things with a growing sense of wonderment and awe. When my thirty minutes was up, and I had a meeting to go to, I was reluctant to stop. I could quite happily have continued for hours! I wanted to learn more!
To my mind that is a clear indication of what video games have to teach us about learning. They model what it should be like, and so often isn’t in our schools and work-places.