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Fairness is key to fun—and that’s a good thing



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Fairness is key to fun—and that’s a good thing


Marc Prensky, 2001. Internationally acclaimed speaker, writer, consultant, and designer in the critical areas of education and learning, Founder, CEO and Creative Director of games2train.com, former vice president at the global financial firm Bankers Trust, BA from Oberlin College, an MBA from Harvard Business School with distinction and master's degrees from Middlebury and Yale. “Fun, Play and Games: What Makes Games Engaging,”Digital Game-Based Learning, www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Game-Based%20Learning-Ch5.pdf.
So fun — in the sense of enjoyment and pleasure — puts us in a relaxed, receptive frame of mind for learning. Play, in addition to providing pleasure, increases our involvement, which also helps us learn. Both “fun” and “play” however, have the disadvantage of being somewhat abstract, unstructured, and hard-to-define concepts. But there exists a more formal and structured way to harness (and unleash) all the power of fun and play in the learning process — the powerful institution of games. Before we look specifically at how we can combine games with learning, let us examine games themselves in some detail. Like fun and play, game is a word of many meanings and implications. How can we define a game? Is there any useful distinction between fun, play and games? What makes games engaging? How do we design them? Games are a subset of both play and fun. In programming jargon they are a “child”, inheriting all the characteristics of the “parents.” They therefore carry both the good and the bad of both terms. Games, as we will see, also have some special qualities, which make them particularly appropriate and well suited for learning. So what is a game? Like play, game, has a wide variety of meanings, some positive, some negative. On the negative side there is mocking and jesting, illegal and shady activity such as a con game, as well as the “fun and games” that we saw earlier. As noted, these can be sources of resistance to Digital Game-Based Learning — “we are not playing games here.” But much of that is semantic. What we are interested in here are the meanings that revolve around the definition of games involving rules, contest, rivalry and struggle. What Makes a Game a Game? Six Structural Factors The Encyclopedia Britannica provides the following diagram of the relation between play and games: 35 PLAY spontaneous play organized play (GAMES) noncompetitive games competitive games (CONTESTS) intellectual contests physical contests (SPORTS) Our goal here is to understand why games engage us, drawing us in often in spite of ourselves. This powerful force stems first from the fact that they are a form of fun and play, and second from what I call the six key structural elements of games: 1. Rules 2. Goals and Objectives 3. Outcomes & Feedback 4. Conflict/Competition/Challenge/Opposition 5. Interaction, and 6. Representation or Story. There are thousands, perhaps millions of different games, but all contain most, if not all, these powerful factors. Those that don’t contain all the factors are still classified as games by many, but can also belong to other subclasses described below. In addition to these structural factors, there are also important design elements that add to engagement and distinguish a really good game from a poor or mediocre one. Let us discuss these six factors in detail and show how and why they lead to such strong engagement. Rules are what differentiate games from other kinds of play. Probably the most basic definition of a game is that it is organized play, that is to say rule-based. If you don’t have rules you have free play, not a game. Why are rules so important to games? Rules impose limits – they force us to take specific paths to reach goals and ensure that all players take the same paths. They put us inside the game world, by letting us know what is in and out of bounds. What spoils a game is not so much the cheater, who accepts the rules but doesn’t play by them (we can deal with him or her) but the nihilist, who denies them altogether. Rules make things both fair and exciting. When the Australians “bent” the rules of the America’s Cup and built a huge boat in 1988, and the Americans found a way to compete with a catamaran, it was still a race — but no longer the same game.


Game spaces like debate are distinct from other forms of education and public speaking. There has to be a balance of ground or else one side claims the moral high ground and creates a de facto monologue



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