Using games in education is a thorny topic. Which games? Which goals? Which outcomes? Which games will warp and twist the minds of our youth, which will contribute to their ongoing development in a positive way?
Games created solely for educational purposes often have their content boiled dry as old bones, all the fun ripped from them in order to create “serious” games. “Fun” in education is often viewed as being suspicious – anything lighthearted or playful is seen as not “serious”. Unfortunately, “serious” has more shades of meaning, that do not involve the concept of fun: serious can mean worthwhile, useful, functional and important – while not excluding fun.
One of the reasons that Second Life gets knocked back as an educational tool is that it is viewed as a game. Second Life is not a game. Second Life contains games, but is not itself a game. Let us examine the reasoning behind these statements, commencing with this definition of “game” by Roger Caillois, via Wikipedia:
A game must be:
- fun: the activity is chosen for its light-hearted character
- separate: it is circumscribed in time and place
- uncertain: the outcome of the activity is unforeseeable
- non-productive: participation is not productive
- governed by rules: the activity has rules that are different from everyday life
- fictitious: it is accompanied by the awareness of a different reality
Second Life contains fun much as it contains games. In the atomic world, fun exists, as does seriousness (for all meanings of the word) – this is also true of digital environments. Digital environments are not fun all the time. However, playfulness and fun are well-supported by digital environments – they lend themselves to lighthearted interaction and creativity more easily than the atomic environment does.
A game of chess has a finite starting and ending point, It exists in a “game space”, whether that be the physical location, of the game board and pieces, or a mental space in which the player thinks about the game. Second Life does not have a definite beginning or ending, in which people can “play” it. Second Life is continuous – it exists regardless of whether any given user is in the space or not.
An activity that has a guaranteed outcome is not a game. However, an activity that has some degree of uncertainty is not automatically a game. For the most part, it’s about the degree of uncertainty – something that is more uncertain is more likely to be a game. For most non-game activities in Second Life, the degree of uncertainty is similar to that of non-game activities in the atomic world.
pro·duc·tive (pr-dktv, pr-)
4. Economics Of or involved in the creation of goods and services to produce wealth or value.
Caillois’ definition of productivity, or lack thereof, revolves around the economic definition of the word. Thus, non-productive carries connotations of not making goods or services, not being directly productive. Similarly, un-productive: adding nothing to exchangeable value. Games are more typically only indirectly productive, adding value through increased knowledge and learning. Second Life is productive, directly and indirectly, in the economic sense of the word.
Governed by rules
The rules in Second Life do not differ from the rules in the atomic world, though there are additional rules that cover circumstances that can occur in digital environments that cannot occur in the atomic world, just as any specialist venue in the atomic world might.
Feigned, rather than artificial. A contrivance, the rules of which only work within the system of the game being played. Second Life is an artificial space, or construct, in which real and meaningful interactions can and do occur. The consequences of actions within Second Life have an impact beyond the digital space.
“If you can tell me how real life isn’t a game, I’ll tell you how SL isn’t one.”
Is the game-like digital interface being used, or the use of avatars, or maybe even the hyperbole and misinformation generated by the press, that causes the confusion? Regardless of the cause, it’s long past time to set people’s minds at ease – Second Life is not a game.