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JUNE 7, 2010

Games & badges

One of the striking things I learned as I worked on my presentation for last week's UCDA Design Education Summit was how differently young college students use media compared to old fogies like me. The surprise wasn't that there was a difference, it was how great the difference turned out to be in one specific area: video and/or computer games.

Take a look at this graphic that compares the youngest students surveyed with the oldest teachers. Move your mouse over it to see the difference between student and teacher views.

Only 4% of the teachers played games more than one hour per week while 96% virtually ignored them. Among students, 35% played more than an hour a week.

These numbers are from my own What's Your Media Diet survey and a pair of earlier surveys done with college students and teachers as part of my sabbatical research.

A 2008 Pew Research Center study of younger students (12-17) was even more dramatic:

The first national survey of its kind finds that virtually all American teens play computer, console, or cell phone games and that the gaming experience is rich and varied, with a significant amount of social interaction and potential for civic engagement.

What to make of this? Well, I think those of us who have been ignoring video games ought to start looking at them and figuring out how we can use them to accomplish our goals of educating students. If this seems preposterous, watch both videos posted with my earlier article, Games? Seriously?

You may start to see the possibilities.

Foursquare: a game for adults

From the Introduction to Foursquare:

  • Find happiness just around the corner.
  • Inside information.
  • Recommendations.
  • Things to do...or avoid.
  • Unlock badges and earn points.
  • Check in at a location more than anyone else and become the Mayor of that location.

Foursquare is a website and mobile phone application that automatically records where you are and shares that with your Facebook and/or Twitter friends. It also shows places nearby like bars, restaurants and stores.

4Square Adventurer badge4Square Crunked badgeA big part of its appeal is that you can earn badges—clearly a ripoff of the Scout merit badge idea. You can also compare your scores to those of your friends, achieve special titles, like "Mayor," and other things that Amy Jo Kim calls "game mechanics in her great talk Putting the Fun in Functional.

Twitter feedHow popular is it? Well, in February Foursquare was recording about a million check-ins (visits to listed locations) each week. By the end of May the number was nearly a million each day. More than a million people use the application, and in May more than 15,000 were joining each day.

What to make of this?

I think that Foursquare—and other examples like the multitude of Facebook games—demonstrates pretty convincingly that people of all ages like games. There is an undeniable fun factor that appeals to us no matter what the age. So there's hope that even we old teachers can figure out how to make games and game mechanics part of how we teach.

It's time we got started.


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