Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why won't these students play our game?

A couple years ago, researchers at the School of information of the University of Michigan developed a game called The Defense of Hidgeon: The Plague Years. The game was designed to help students learn about library research.

And you may be asking yourself at this moment, Will Undergraduate Students Play Games to Learn How to Conduct Library Research? And the short answer is, no.

The game's monetary prizes were an incentive to only a handful of teams to play the game. Only after the instructor offered the half-grade increase did most teams play the game. Students told us directly that the instructor's incentive motivated them to play the game.

This poor response is especially damning when you keep in mind that this experiment was performed with students enrolled in an undergraduate course entitled “Introduction to Information Studies”.

I don't intend to write up a formal response to this particular article but I do want to use it to introduce some ideas that, if applied in this case, may have improved the results considerably.

The first set of ideas are concerned with external and internal motivators and this 20 minute TED Talk by Dan Pink is a wonderful introduction to the subject. Even though Pink grounds his talk in the world of management, librarians and other teachers can learn much from what the research demonstrates about the effectiveness of different types of motivators and when they should be applied. After watching this presentation, I now question the utility of offering prize money for playing learning games.

I believe that those who worked on "The Defense of Hidgeon" did so because they thought that introducing concepts through a game could provide additional motivation for students to learn. I haven't played the game myself, but from their description, it doesn't sound so much as a game but as a simulation or a training exercise. A simulation is not a game.

And a game is supposed to be fun.

I hope that the next article I read about games and libraries cites A Theory of Fun for Game Design.


Lisa said...

so are you going to make a library game on a sabbatical year or what? isn't it time you took a sabbatical? you've been back for what -- a week now?

Chris said...

Another challenge was the game play - once players controlled the monasteries - there was little game play incentive to continue. The amount of time and energy to 'capture' a monastery once it was controlled far outweighed any token monetary incentive. One highly motivated team captured the majority of the monasteries before most teams even began participating.

And what's this nonsense about a game being fun? ;-)

Mita said...

Much thanks, Chris for the insight into the game play.

"The Theory of Fun For Game Design" has a great chapter dedicated to the constant struggle between the game designer and the players who mercurially optimize their actions in a game.

It's quite possible that the existence of a cash prize encouraged players to optimize play in game in a different manner than if the game was for "marks".