Here Is Why Your Classroom Reality Is Broken

It is no secret that video games can distract students. But can you wield that same engagement for your own class by gamifying? Let’s first see the State of Gaming.

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Every educator can engage their students more by taking the best core elements of games and gamifying their course. But first we must understand the scope of student game-play and the reasons for it.

Clash of Clans: 1 – World History: 0

There were many days this year that instead of teaching history, I was fighting against Clash of Clans. “Clash” as it was referred to by students, is a free, mobile, massively-multiplayer, online [MMO] strategy game. The game was first released in 2012 but its user numbers have exploded in the past 2 years. As an example, the Clash of Clans earned $101 million in revenue for its developer in 2012. That number skyrocketed to $892 million in revenue in 2013!

I teach freshman world history and my fight against the world of Clash was a losing battle. The freshman boys this year LOVED Clash of Clans. But why? To what extent was the world playing video games?

Back in the early 2000s when I was finishing high school, I played video games weekly, if not nightly. I understand the appeal of video games. I certainly still understand the appeal of them as a choice versus doing homework. But what is surprising to me as a person in their thirties is how common video games have become. Not just the traditional video games on TV and console, but on computers, tablets, and cell phones.

My first cell phone in 2000 was a Nokia with a pull up antenna and a green screen. It took 20 minutes to write a text. Any game other than the boring snake game were out of the question. The mobile state of gaming was still in its infancy. Today, it is a different story. Anyone with a mobile device can play games at any time. Fun, challenging, enriching, social, and rewarding games are an awesome substitute for any student in a dull class.

If you think that this is just a local phenomenon, you would be wrong.

The Shocking State of Gaming

If you want to use the power of games to engage with your students, you must understand their appeal. Before we get to that, lets look at the facts to see what we are up against.

  • World of Warcraft: The millions of players in the online game World of Warcraft created a wiki resource for WoW nearly 1/10 the size of ALL of Wikipedia
  • The Economy of China: Young adults in China spent so much game money or “QQ coins” on magical swords and other in-game objects that the People’s Bank of China had to take action to prevent a collapse of its own real-world currency.
  • Gamers in the US: In the United States alone, there are 183 million active gamers. Think about that number. That is more than half the entire US population. Men, women, children. Who is an active gamer? They are players who commit, on average, 13 hours per week to gaming.
  • Gaming World-Wide: Across the world, there are ~484,000,000 people currently gaming on computer, mobile and video. If you are into statistics, the numbers break down as follows: Middle East – 4 million, Russia – 10 million, India 105 million, Vietnam – 10 million, Mexico – 10 million, Central and South America – 13 million, Australia – 15 million, South Korea – 17 million, Europe 100 million, and China – 200 million.
  • A Time To Game?: Typical gamers spend 2 hours a day playing. However, there are 6 million gamers in China who spend at least 22 hours a week gaming.
  • And The Actual Retail Price Is…: All these gamers make a LOT of money for the games industry. How much? The games industry is valued at $68 billion a year [2012]. That is with a B. Gamers spend more on games than Americans spend on sports, books, movies or music COMBINED.

What Now?

Where does this leave you? How can we, as educators, compete with games? If there is a lesson where students would rather play Clash of Clans than study world history, I am not doing my job right. Some of you might think I am blaming myself when I shouldn’t, but its true. My job is to help students to connect with skills and knowledge. I want to use any tool I can to accomplish that.

The worst choice for educators would be to ignore games or to dismiss them as simply a “waste of time”. They are not. They are serving very basic needs we have as humans. Needs that gamers are not getting anywhere else in the world.

Therefore, let us not treat games as distractions, but we should break them down, find out what makes them appealing, and use the same techniques to motivate and inspire our own students.

I gamified my class this year and it was a blast! I saw students more engaged with their own learning and more in control of their own mastery. While it certainly wasn’t a “silver bullet”, it didn’t need to be. It simply was a way for me to connect with students and engage them in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to accomplish.

More Resources:

To see the source of my statistics and for more information, I recommend you check out Jane McGonigal’s New York Times Best Selling book, Reality Is Broken.

Question: What part of your teaching could be improved by adding game elements to it?

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