June 23, 2020
There is a distinction between gamers and non-gamers that distinguishes the two very quickly. When given a new game to play, a persons reaction to the new environment is telling. The inexperienced will often wander a little aimlessly, not really sure how to establish the game goals or rules.
Where as experienced gamers quickly experiment to discover the games degrees of freedom. Can they pick up items and mix them to make new items? Do different objects interact with each other? Are parts of the environment changeable? Can NPCs (non player characters) talk? The only way to answer these questions (outside of cheating and searching online) is to figure it out yourself.
Since games depend on a player enjoying the process of learning new skills, they have developed an under-appreciated mastery of the educational process. They have become masters at engineering eureka moments. In games (as in life) the player is rewarded when they figure something out and solve a problem.
Evidence of games success with animating our reward system is suggested by:
Players getting fixated on goals, overcoming anxiety or frustration,
Players effortlessly remembering large amounts of information,
Problems with video game addiction.
This persistence is necessary for people to overcome difficult challenges. Where inexperienced gamers quickly get frustrated or bored when blocked by an obstacle, experienced gamers persist, by definition. Over the years, that mindset continues to sharpen those skills and habits, resulting in the aforementioned differences when handling a new challenge.
Where these motivational techniques are sorely needed are in education, particularly math, which has its own special subset of anxiety (Dowker, 2016). In my games, I try to capture that same focused attention and persistence with problems that involve math tools. My latest text game, ‘Elevator out of Sequence’, exercises the players problem solving ability by requiring them to discover the particular arithmetic or geometric sequence pattern themselves by looking at the game environment and simulated data. They are not given the sequence as they would be in a traditional math problem, they instead find their answers in the environment, like the real world.
If thinking about a difficult idea has some probability of resulting in an enlightening realization event, in a eureka moment, then the more a person thinks the idea the more likely they are to score that understanding and grow. If education can learn how games motivate players to enjoy the struggle and love the feeling of hard earned success, the odds that everyone can master challenging skills, like math, rises.
Dowker, Ann Sarkar, Aman Looi Chung Yen, Apr 2016, Mathematics Anxiety: What Have We Learned in 60 Years, NCBI, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4842756/