Thursday, April 1, 2010

“We have to start making the real world more like a game”

This is the revolutionary but easily overlooked statement Jane McGonigal makes during her Ted talk on how gaming can make a better world.

“We have to start making the real world more like a game”

Notice that she doesn’t say, “We have to start using gamers’ skills in the real world,” or “we need to figure out how gaming relates to real world activities”.

No. She says we need to start adapting our society to compliment the values and beliefs of gamers.

It’s not about bringing gamers into the real world; it’s about bringing the real world in line with gaming. 

This is the same message found in John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade’s The Kids are Alright: How the Gamer Generation is Changing the Workplace.

Beck and Wade argue that gamers approach their work -- and their life -- from an entirely different perspective than non-gamers. Just as the values and beliefs of the baby-boomer generation irrevocably altered the way we think about the world, so too are gamers slowly changing our social landscape. 

And given the ever-increasing number of gamers, this change is inevitable and immanent. If we attempt to continue to adhere to pre-gaming ideals, then we are setting ourselves up for a great deal of frustration.

So what does a gaming world look like?

Citing extensive research, Beck and Wade present a number of characteristics that are common in gamers in the workforce.  Amongst other traits, gamers
  • “ believe that winning matters” (81)
  • “care more about the organizations they work for than other groups do – not less” (82)
  • “expect high rewards for the value they create” (92)
  • “believe in themselves and in their own ability to create exceptional value” (94)

In other words, if companies want to capitalize on their employees’ skills, they need to create environments where employees feel empowered to make meaningful change; that provide clear rewards based on merit; and that encourage a greater focus on peer-driven learning and improvement rather than top-down management.

If these conclusions sound familiar, it is probably because companies are increasingly conforming to these structures as gamers continue to make up a bigger percentage of the workforce.

But what does this mean for education?

Beck and Wade’s results clearly show that gamers want to be passionately involved in their companies and their work: gamers believe they can make a difference.

We need to think about how to model our schools to tap into this drive and passion.

Wade and Beck provide several specific suggestions about how to adapt the workforce to the gamer generation that could be applied to an educational setting, but more important is first embracing the notion that gamers have a fundamentally different worldview than previous non-gamer generations. This new worldview is neither better nor worse than the one it’s replacing, but it does require a shift in our approach to educational strategies and objectives.

This does not mean simply adding technology into the classroom, even in its most creative and innovative forms.

This means trying to understand how gaming continues to influence the worldview of upcoming generations, and reshaping our educational system to accommodate, not stifle, these new value-systems.

On the Path of the Elders

Making the real world more like a game does not mean turning our backs on everything that is important to us.

On the Path of the Elders, an online educational resource exploring Mushkegowuk and Anishinaabe culture and history, is one example of how we can integrate a gamer worldview with traditional teachings. 

At the launch event for, Dr. John Medicine Horse Kelley Cle-alls spoke of the need to maintain Aboriginal culture and traditions while adapting to new developments; he spoke of adaptation itself as an Aboriginal tradition.

As resources such as demonstrate, there are ways to strike a productive balance between maintaining important beliefs and adapting ourselves to gamers’ values; however, this balance can only occur when we stop trying to simply force gamers into pre-existing structures.

Beck. John C. and Mitchell Wade. The Kids are Alright: How the Gamer Generation is Changing the Workplace. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2006.

Collette Jackson, Content and Marketing Specialist at BlackCherry Digital Media, is writing on behalf of On the Path of the Elders, a free online educational resource that explores Cree and Ojibway history and culture, and the signing of Treaty No. 9.

Check out On the Path of the Elders at

For more information, email us at

Created in partnership with BlackCherry Digital Media, Archives Deschâtelets, the Doug Ellis Collection at Carleton University, Our Incredible World (Pinegrove Productions), the Mushkegowuk Council, Neh Naak Ko, the Archives of St. Paul University, Carleton University, and Wendy Campbell, Educational Consultant (Learning Methods Group).

This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Canadian Culture Online Strategy. Created with additional financial assistance from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the Inukshuk Fund.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great concept! When you think about games in education, the material is not all there in a book, waiting to be read and memorized to be recited back at some later time with no context for the information other than maybe a book and a chapter or page number.

    In the Path of the Elders games, the player is given a context and a goal for each game. Information about strategy, agendas, obsticles and hazards must be gleaned by meeting individuals and asking and answering questions. The players need the information from the NPCs and have a context for why it is needed and where it can be used. This context makes it very easy for players to recall the information later.

    I believe interactive learning is far superior to standard teaching methods.

    For one thing, there is direct feedback for the player (audio cues, character reactions, game pieces and interface elements), secondly, the learning outcomes can be built into game play (allowing the player to advance only after they have accomplished the learning outcomes).
    POTE also provides several avenues for help which is avaiable anytime the child is playing the game. Most games also end up with user provided walkthroughs and hint and cheat guides that kids can access if they get stuck somewhere.

    This game would also provide the opportunity for children to help each other succeed in the games by giving each other hints or getting peers on the right path.