The Big Idea

Here’s my Big Idea, and why I named this blog the way I did. I’ll slice it down to a few propositions.

  1. Teachers often accuse kids of treating school as a game. The teachers want it to be about ideas, skills — something meaningful. The kids just want to know how to play school, mostly to make it go away or get some other “irrelevant” gratification out of it.
  2. Let’s pretend, for a moment, that the kids are right: School is a game. The assignments, the grades, the conventions and concepts, the students and teachers, are all tokens in a game system.
  3. Once we think of school as a game, we can design it that way mindfully. To do that, we have to ask: Is it a good game? What species of game is it? What are its mechanics? Are the adults outside the rules, or in them?
  4. Perhaps we will find that school is more honest, more fun, less ponderous and scary — just <I>better</I> — when we stop thinking of it as a mechanism for seeing things beyond itself. Just as a good game of chess means only itself, perhaps school is a present, playable process that enriches life <I>now</I> rather than depicting something distant.
  5. If this is a worthwhile program, it is likely that the best people for transforming schools in this way would work outside the field of education. I suspect game designers would have the most to say here.
  6. Whether we seriously consider school as a game or not, students mostly do. As a game, they often find it to be dull, confusing and scary. We can do a lot better.

Please note that when I envision game design for schools. I do not mean having the students play “Jeopardy” or go to the computer lab to play math games. I don’t mean tiny self-contained game episodes performed inside the traditional classroom setting. I mean treating the whole enterprise of school as an enormous game, with the school structure inside of it, rather than vice versa.


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