Educational Gaming: Teaching Competition

Gaming. It’s everywhere. Angry birds on the bus, Minecraft on your laptop and of course Mario in your math book.

If that last sentence seemed a bit off, don’t worry, things are changing.

Education is becoming gamified. No, education isn’t being heralded into in a Tron-esque neon light race but rather it is being sucked into the mechanics of game methodology.

Gamification refers to the idea that anything can incorporate game mechanics like winners, losers, leaderboards and rewards  to become a game. And of course if gaming is involved, controversy is sure to follow.

What is interesting about the idea of gamification is the fear that surrounds it. “Some visionaries, like game designer Jesse Schell, envision a kind of gamepocalypse, a hypothetical future in which everything in daily life becomes gamified, from brushing one’s teeth to exercise (Schell, 2010).” (Taken from a paper by Joey J. Lee)

Already gamification has invaded donations and political races.

Taken from Creative Commons user cambodia4kidsorg
Taken from Creative Commons user cambodia4kidsorg

I think the problem at hand with gamification is the competition nature that it spawns. I worry about the spark in competitiveness that gamification of education could produce and intensify.

It could be beneficial in motivating children to finish their homework faster and efficiently in order to get a new high score or it can only increase the competitive spirit and aggression that seems to prevail in American schools. Children are already stressed to get the best grades and to be the best athletes in order to get the most scholarship money. Do we really need to add to that competition?

Eight out of 17 children report feeling stressed about school, their families and money according to American Psychological Association.

Children already have enough to worry about with just growing up, we don’t need to add more through competitive education. According to the APA, children ages 8-12 stress the most about managing school.  And that is without the added pressures of leaderboards and reward systems. Imagine as a child whenever you got that gold star on your paper.

It was a personal satisfaction that you rushed home to share with your mother or father. But what if you didn’t get that gold star? What if everyone else around you achieved that higher score, earned the rewards and had that posted all over school? Unfortunately, in elementary school, middle and high school students are already ostracized for various reasons, we don’t need to give them another one.

I would propose a mixture of gamification where there are some competitions (as it is good for a child to experience some competition) but not so that it consumes the entire school with leaderboards, achievements and aggression. For certain assignments such as tests there could be a leaderboard system which rewards a winner but also those that have increased in rankings.

I believe that in spurts gamification could help children but if we turn our entire lives into a competitive atmosphere, more so that what it already is, our future generation will not only be completely stressed out, but consumed by a pressure and aggression to win, which isn’t always the surest route.


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