The success of contemporary video game franchises is the result of certain considerations in the game's design. Keith Stuart's article The seduction secrets of video games (The Guardian, 2011) identifies some common design strategies of successful games that we as educators should take note of. As this article states, games tap into our motivation and neural pathways which is exactly what teachers strive to do with their students. By tapping into our brains' preferences to systems and puzzles, game designers have created very effective learning environments.
Overall, games are effective because they create an environment in which the learner can take risks without facing and judgement from others. They can try things, they can fail, sometimes fatally without fear. Following the design template of Acquire/Test/Master has been a successful design strategy for many games. In other words, one acquires a new skill set, they test it out, and experience a series of failures until they master that skill. Once the skill is mastered they move on to a new challenge. This is not always the case in our classrooms. We often teach, test and then move on regardless of the mastery level of our students. It doesn't take much to figure out why games are more popular than class.
Successful games tap into our desire to be autonomous. The feeling of being in charge is empowering and in many games the player has to approach a situation, make a plan and then put that plan into motion. It make take several attempts to beat the Alien or Prince of Darkness, etc but the player gets to decide how its done. When success if finally reached, there is a sense of pride and accomplishment. Video games tap into this desire and need for autonomy. How often do our classrooms? I dare say that most often students are not experiencing autonomy over their learning. They are simply doing what they are told which is not as rewarding.
Video games also create curiosity within the player. The article states, "good games will have the expected progression at each level but will provide surprise rewards halfway through". This is a motivation strategy that doesn't exist in our classes very often. Players keep exploring, looking deeper for that possibility of an extra nugget of information or reward where our students rarely go beyond what is expected. Imagine if our students had the same motivation in our classes as they do in their games!
Video games also provide the player with disproportionate feedback. Upon the completion of a simple task, the player will experience huge fanfare which really is an overreaction but our brain loves it! Using sounds and graphics we are rewarded for doing something. Stuart calls this a "charm offensive" on our brain and an "endorphin come on". I'm not sure the classroom teacher can compete with that.
By tapping into effective game design, game producers have provided us with safe and effective learning environments based on sound research and science. Using these resources in an educational only makes sense. Through their video game play, students prove they can learn almost anything and really is time we expand these platforms to our classrooms.