Games and Learning: A Review of A Theory of Fun

A few weeks ago a colleague sent an email to the faculty asking about banning students’ use of electronic devices during their recess time. This email was in response to a rainy indoor

Some games turn serious
Cartoon by Raph Koster

recess, where several students fired up their devices and started playing Minecraft. He was concerned about how these games might be impacting their social interaction and learning. The email inspired several other faculty members to share their support of a ban on electronics.

Ever since then, I’ve been questioning the relationship between games and learning. More specifically I’ve been reading the book A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster. While the book describes how games engage players, it also articulates how people solve problems and learn in general. Some ideas from the book that I am still digesting are:

  • Games that fail to exercise the the brain become boring
  • Fun is another word for learning
  • Games are not stories (not sure I agree with this)
  • A good game teaches everything it has to offer before the player gives up
  • People give up on games because they cannot find an identifiable pattern, or because the pattern is repetitive
  • Adding a reward structure does not make something a game (Khan Academy, Badges, etc.)

Koster draws a strong connection between games and learning, and I am apt to agree with him. Although my agreement doesn’t resolve my colleague’s issue with student use of technology. Like all things games evolve over time. Does that fact that it is played on a screen instead of a board make it less social? This question seems to conjure up Sherry Turkle’s premise from Alone Together about the isolating quality of technology. The technology is not the issue rather it is how we use it. As part of #clmooc, I get to interact and learn with educators from across the globe. I am keenly aware of the value of such connections. I believe games and simulations are integral to learning. My goal is to share this value with my colleagues and students.

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