Turning online games into teaching tool

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Vendors should consider developing more learning games, instead of games that serve no particular purpose other than filling the coffers of the gaming companies. JIN DING/CHINA DAILY

A recent announcement by the National Press and Publication Administration in China restricts the playing of video games to a maximum of one hour a day between 8pm and 9pm on weekends and holidays. To ensure the rule is followed, real-name verification and facial recognition will be needed to access video platforms.

As per news reports, these measures have been welcomed by Chinese parents. A previous report comparing video games to “spiritual opium” for China’s youth in their rationale for seeking restrictions on them faced little pushback from parents. The restrictions are directly administered for the vendors, including NetEase and Tencent, which have profited massively from game addiction at the cost of young people’s health and growth.

News of the restrictions was covered worldwide and was met with approval from other parents elsewhere. Digital addiction is a shared challenge for parents worldwide, who have come to the realisation that it is an uphill battle to restrict kids’ screen time on their own.

During the pandemic, students are also using computers and mobile devices to take online courses, making it more difficult to restrict device use. Apps for learning, gaming, and other entertainment all converge in a single device. Parents are exhausted trying to work, do household chores, and monitor their children’s use of devices. In this day of ubiquitous connectivity, parenting kids with digital devices can be tough for parents of all types.

Digital distraction is real, and it can alter how minors function on a daily basis. In the ideal world, they would have the self-regulation to restrict the time they spend on video games and apps, but we know how that can go for students who have not developed the proper time management skills and restraint when it comes to temptations from sirens of the digital ocean. Imposing restrictions may not be ideal, but it can send the right message to younger children, as well as vendors who are becoming experts at using algorithms to drag users deeper and deeper into using their products.

However, the vendors should consider developing more learning games or serious games, instead of games that serve no particular purpose other than filling the coffers of the gaming companies. There is much we can learn from the gaming world, such as the joy of grand wins, deep immersion in the environment, and the sense of accomplishment players feel when passing through levels. Even “epic fails” provide some satisfaction as players gain experience and grow in a fairly safe environment.

Learning can be gamified in a way to scaffold students toward success if we design education programmes to lead students through levels, from easy to challenging. Students should be provided opportunities to fail in a safe environment and gain valuable insights for growth. As video games that provide instant feedback for performance, educators should also shorten the cycle of feedback for students to estimate what they have done well, or where improvement would be desirable. When students have mastered a skill, they can celebrate it to feel a deep sense of satisfaction.

Working in an education institution, I have observed teachers who use gaming in their courses with success. For instance, an English professor may gamify an assignment by asking students to produce a magazine with themes and characters from the Scarlet Letter. I have worked with a professor who designed a simulation game about World War I that lets students make choices at key points in history in a fictional way. Education in many parts of the world is riddled with ills, including the lack of purpose, motivation, and efficiency. Perhaps gaming can teach us something.

I have also seen vendors working hard to produce valuable educational gaming tools or platforms such as Quizlet, Kahoot, Brainscape and Genially. These tools can equip even teachers who have no programming background to use gaming methods in course design.

Some schools or teachers use badging and leader boards to motivate students to achieve various learning outcomes. Their efforts and investment provide tools for educators, parents and students alike. Therefore an opportunity arises for the gaming industry to merge into the lane of productive educational games.

Berling Fang is a columnist based in the US state of Texas. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK