McGonigal notes that all games share four traits—a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation. With this definition of a game, I can vehemently argue that college is a game. One can evaluate education as a game by investigating education’s relation to the four traits.
“The goal provides players with a sense of purpose.”
It forces hard work, demands focus, and rewards participation. In a university setting, the goal is a diploma. Although it is just a piece of paper, it symbolizes effort, intelligence, and collaboration. University students complete a myriad of homework assignments, submit in-depth research papers, and perform difficult laboratory experiments. So, the student proverbially rescues Princess Peach, as the diploma formalizes years of hard work and dedication.
“The rules place limitations on how players can achieve the goal. By removing or limiting the obvious ways of getting to the goal, the rules push players to explore previously uncharted possibility spaces. They unleash creativity and foster strategic thinking.”
In other words, a university doesn’t simply allow a student to pay four years worth of tuition, walk into the computer lab, and print a Bachelor’s Degree of Science with the student’s name on it. No, the student must follow rules to achieve the goal. A university establishes many rules to foster creativity and get students “thinking outside the box.” A basic rule, plagiarism, punishes students for citing others’ work as their own. One may reference it to make connections, but one may not simply copy it word-for-word (or even paraphrase it) and pretend that it’s his or her knowledge. This rule places emphasis on research and skills development. Another rule, as seen at Seton Hill University, forces students to adhere to a strict credit schedule to meet requirements. One must meet a total credit requirement, a major-specific credit requirement, and a core credit requirement. If the student fails to meet any of these expectations, he or she does not receive a diploma, and must enroll in further courses to fulfill the requirements. By adhering to strict credit requirements, the student must often enroll in courses out of his or her comfort zone (e.g. a computer science major in a sculpture class, a mathematics major in a creative writing class, or a literature major in a calculus class) in order to “[unleash] creativity and [foster] strategic thinking.”
“The feedback system tells players how close they are to achieving the goal.”
The feedback system is one that most students can identify with. Institutions define grade ranges that reflect a student’s overall progress on tests and homework assignments. In many cases, an ‘A’ is 90-100%, a ‘B’ is 89-80%, a ‘C’ is 79-70%, a ‘D’ is 69-60%, and an ‘F’ is 59% and below. An ‘A’ is excellent and generally tells the student, “Keep it up!” A ‘B’ is ok, but it leaves some room for improvement. A ‘C’ says, “Dude, you need to spend more time studying.” Lastly, ‘D’s and ‘F’s question, “Did you even come to class?” The feedback system is a valuable tool, allowing students to reflect on progress and make adjustments. Professors may also express feedback verbally or via written notes. A statement like, “Dylin, can you see me in my office after class?” can indicate a potential problem. Illegible red scribble marks on tests saying “APPLY YOURSELF” serve as a wake up call, and smiley face stickers (they’re so cute) shouting, “Good job!” urge the student to continue his or her good habits.
“Finally, voluntary participation requires that everyone who is playing the game knowingly and willingly accepts the goal, the rules, and the feedback.”
Buying into my theory that education is a game, one must look at different levels of education as different levels of games. Pre-school is simple, it establishes rules for playing. The next level, kindergarten, develops elementary skills, like drawing stick figures, writing one’s name, and speaking sentences. The student then moves on to elementary school and high school, in which the difficulty of puzzles progressively increases. United States’ federal and state government dictates that students should at least reach this point, or earn a GED or equivalent degree. However, one can choose to move on, entering college and subsequently graduate school. The student doesn’t have to—he or she can simply move on, enter parenthood, choose a career, or stagnate. By paying tuition, filling out forms, and signing paperwork, however, the student makes an intelligent decision to continue education. He or she can attend orientation, where the goals, rules, and feedback are laid out more informally. The student can choose to leave at any time, or he or she can embrace the opportunity and challenge his or herself. By voluntary participating, students are able to play together in a “safe and pleasurable environment.”
After investigating McGonigal’s four traits of games—a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation—one can clearly define education as a game, as it contains all the necessary elements.
How many people can make this connection? I’m sure the number is limited to the people who read the prompt, and those who are deeply involved in the study of games, of course. After investigation, though, it seems so clear. Education is a game. It has a clear goal. There are rules. A feedback system tells students how close they are to the goal. College is voluntary. But one usually does not make these connections before reading the prompt. That, in itself, provokes discussion. How many other aspects of life can be defined as games? Is employment a game? Is pet ownership a game? Is reading a book a game? Is sleeping a game? Is duct tape a game? Are scissors a game? Is drinking a Capri-Sun a game? Dr. Jerz’ prompt, with the aid of McGonigal’s textbook, “Reality is Broken,” urges readers to investigate aspects of life that seemingly go by without thorough inspection.
via McGonigal 1.