Games, Play or Gamification (Huh?). Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off!

Wow, Mr. Jenkins has some great things to say in his article Shall We Play? but it’s necessary to weed whack your way through the jargon…”affordances” yikes, now really!
Jenkins brings up three classifications in his article; games, play and gamification (some kind of mutated, teacher-created nightmare of a game.)
Jenkins starts off discussing how his think-tank focused on embedding curriculum into games that would provide intrinsic motivation to master knowledge. Deeper forms  of learning occur when students have defined roles, goals, when they know what to do and how to do it. So far so good. It fits with what I believe already. By providing boundaries and some rules, I believe students can feel safe to explore and learn through games. Sounds great…tell me more, I say and then I am left in the lurch while Jenkins goes into a epistle on the value of play. Apparently, games lead to stress, they are too competitive and result in delayed gratification (a good thing as far as I am concerned) and cheating!!! OK, I will admit to getting frustrated during Monopoly with an uncontrollable desire to throw the board at my sister (such fond memories of Christmas.) And isn’t cheating a kind of problem solving too as well as a learning opportunity.

While I do agree that there is a difference between games and play, I am not sure how to fit Jenkins definition of true play into my classes. How can I have a class with no goals outside of the activity itself? Play is all about discovery, something that I would love to encourage in my practice. I would love some concrete examples of how to go about this but all of Jenkins’ examples seemed more like games than  play.
According to Jenkins, play is about experimentation and focusing on the process rather than on the outcome. He suggests that students are not getting feedback to “calibrate their efforts” (formative assessment) which is not true. Play is also about immediate gratification, something which I think is all too prevalent in this century and a little delayed gratification might be in order (I teach 16-18 year olds who delight in giving purple nurples or throwing scissors across the classroom when too much freedom is given.) Perhaps Mr. Jenkins would like to visit my players while developing his play/games.
I strongly agree that we damage student motivation to learn by providing the extrinsic reward of grades. The fact is that many of my students are not motivated by grades or learning for learning’s sake. I believe that we need to value the process as well as the product, it’s not an either or situation. As for playing to learn or using games to learn, whatever engages kids is fine with me.


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