Learning from Games

The world seems to have woken up to the world of gaming only recently. The success of the iPhone/iPad and Angry Birds/FarmVille has set the wheels turning in everyone’s brain. How can I make the most of this new trend? How can I get my share of the games profits? I feel like a lot of companies and people are treating the games industry as just the latest hot thing to try and exploit. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a huge amount of room for games to excel across many different sectors including Internet based businesses and even Education, but I worry that people are approaching it in the wrong way.

I attended The Dublin Web Summit a few months ago, representing Open Emotion Studios with Paddy Murphy, and we were the only game studio in the room with a stand. But the amazing thing was the amount of attention we got just because of that! We had at least five different companies, if not more, approach us for ideas on how to “gamify” their product. “Gamification”, as far as I understand it, is the idea of using game mechanics to make your product or service more appealing. Points, achievements etc. There are many different levels of “Gamification” obviously, but that’s the basic idea. While it’s great to see a move in this direction, I think there is a huge amount of untapped potential that non-gaming businesses fail to see yet.

I want to take Education as the area to discuss in the rest of this post, as I think it’s a prime example of missed opportunity thus far. Games teach us things. At present this is not intentional, and yet they are a really effective tool for learning. Let’s take Angry Birds as a quick example first, since it has such a wide audience. If I asked an average person a seemingly complicated Applied Maths question about projectiles, asking what angle you need to launch something at in order to have it travel the furthest distance, I guarantee you that more people would be able to answer it now than 5 years ago. Many of them probably couldn’t tell you why, or would only be able to give you half an answer but Angry Birds has unintentionally taught people the answer. If you aim too high the bird will go high not far and if you aim too low you’ll hit the ground earlier. So people will aim “somewhere in the middle” to go furthest. (45 degrees is the correct answer for anyone wondering).

Games have been teaching things to people for a lot longer than Angry Birds also. When I was growing up two games I played were Age of Empires and Magic the Gathering. Age of Empires taught me more history than I learned in school, without a doubt. I learned about the Romans, the Greeks and so much Medieval history in general. And what’s more is it gave me an interest in learning more about those periods and civilisations when it came to school.

Magic the Gathering is a physical card game where you use a combination of spells and creatures to try and reduce your opponents life total from 20 to 0. Naturally enough, and this may seem small, but this greatly improved my basic arithmetic. When you’re weighing up different options, trying to decide what cards to play and when, you are constantly using arithmetic to calculate which option is best. Again there is a lot more to the game than this, but the moral of the story is, my mental arithmetic improved without me ever intentionally working at it.

This is the area I feel games and Education could truly prosper. If we start creating engaging games which from the ground up are intended to educate the users, without ever telling the user they are being educated, kids and people in general will begin to learn things without ever trying to. Most of us do not have the drive to teach ourselves, if we did then Education would be unnecessary. Games are fun, and are now more socially acceptable than ever, so let’s harness the power they have and convince parents and people everywhere how fun it can be to learn new things!