Jonas Doerr – Opinion Columnist
Education is good. You didn’t need me to tell you that. Video games don’t give the same salaries, job opportunities, or futures that education does, except for a few talented people.
So why doesn’t everyone fill their free time with hours of rereading the syllabus and memorizing profs’ presentations? If you already do that, congrats – I think.
But many people would much rather play video games, and for good reason. They are typically more fun.
But why shouldn’t school be more fun than video games? After all, a console costs hundreds of dollars while tuition costs thousands, as my bank account reminds me far too often. And some video games involve menial tasks that are surely more boring than school, like digging endless tunnels in Minecraft.
However, video games attract users by providing a sense of exploration within the games as well having many clear goals for gamers that give immediate rewards when achieved. In some the prize is a new weapon or spell, in others it is a new building that is unlocked. School, on the other hand, promises rewards on a report card at the end of a semester or even years down the road when trying to find a job.
So what can school learn from video games? Well, we already tried the video part, and it is not the way to go. Classes are simply better in person for the most part. Maybe school can steal some things from the rewards systems and other factors that make games so engaging.
Of course there are potential drawbacks to making school too much fun. For one, rewarding students frequently might take away the opportunity to teach them delayed gratification. Delayed gratification is sacrificing immediate happiness to get something better in the future, like doing homework right away so the hours before it is due are stress-free. However there are other ways to teach delayed gratification, like student employment. Students work long hours for nothing until they finally receive their paycheck at the end of the month.
But are there really ways to make school as fun as video games?
The online learning service Khan Academy has a good idea of how to do it. My grade-school age brothers often sacrifice precious screen time to do Khan Academy’s math problems, and are disappointed when they have to stop. Maybe they are just nerds like me, but the site’s system of points and badges is a terrific motivator.
While perhaps it is not feasible to put up a massive leaderboard in the Caf or hand out awards for turning in homework assignments, the website was just entirely redone. Why not add in some points and badges by everyone’s Gribly profiles? Then there would be something to distract overly curious people from that embarrassing profile picture.
Another thing school can take from video games is the exploratory style of learning video games encourage. Most games teach the controls but not the strategy, so players have to explore on their own the virtual world to find out how to master it. Of course, there are online guides that teach the best way to conquer a game, but those will often take the joy out of it along with the exploration.
But classes often do the same thing as those online guides. Instead of letting students excitedly figure out problems on their own, they are often shown exactly what they must learn and how it must be done, which takes the exploration out of learning. Some of my favorite (and most memorable) in-class experiences involve the spark of realization in a difficult lab or the mental struggle of debating an issue without knowing beforehand what the experts think. Exploration is fundamental to engaged learning.
Of course, I have to mention the most crucial part of making school fun again. Video games give instant rewards even for small accomplishments, so why shouldn’t school? Every single homework assignment or intense study session should earn something that would make students happy and more likely to do it again. So what could there possibly be that Gustavus has lots and lots of and that will indubitably make students happy when it is delivered straight to their dorm? Elementary, my dear Watson! Frost-your-owns.