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August 08, 2021 Sunday 08:55:48 AM IST

Learning Through Games-Art and Science of Serious Games

Rajagiri Round Table

In 2015, Griffin Sanders, a 10 year old boy in Denver, USA was travelling along with his 4-year old brother and 74-year old great grandmother who drove the car. When the vehicle was cruising at 100 km per hour, the great grandmother had a heart attack and became unconscious. The ten year old was in the midst of a crisis. "If I were in his place, I would have screamed and panicked," said Dr Manu Melwin Joy, a gamification expert and Asst Professor at School of Management Studies at Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT). He was delivering the opening remarks at the 73rd Rajagiri Round Table Conference on Learning Through Games-Art and Science of Serious Games on July 14, 2021 on Zoom Meet attended by experts in gamification from across the country and abroad. However, Griffin did exactly what a ten year old would have done in such a situation. He took control of the car, executed a manoeuver and brought the car on the side of the road saving the life of his sibling, grandmother as well as hundreds of other motorists. When police arrived and wondered how he could achieve this, Griffin replied, “Mariokart.”  It is a game played by over 100 million people in which you come across all the problems you encounter on the road. “Griffin knew exactly what to do at that particular point of time. What has given Griffin is an immersive learning experience- that has helped him learn about various situations on the road and able to retrieve it in a crisis situation in a matter of seconds and that is the ultimatum of learning.” Dr Manu Melwin Joy said.
Gamification in Education

We become the best version of ourselves only in the world of gamification as we are most likely to stick with a problem as long as it takes and get up after failure and try again and again. “In real life we don't feel that way when we face obstacles. We feel overcome overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, frustrated or cynical,” according to Asha S Kutty, Faculty member of MD College, Thrissur and a gamification researcher. Research has proven that gamification improves cognitive abilities, retention of knowledge, academic scores, increase pleasant mood and happiness levels, she added.

Unconscious learning happens through gaming which could enhance the academic performance of school students, according to Dr Meenakshi Narula, Principal, Shemford Futuristic K-12 School UP, MIE Trainer and Founder of Mentoring the Mentors. Various tools such as Kahoot, AI Dungeon, Quick Draw tool, Akinator, Semantris for enhancing vocabulary, Teachable Machine, Poem Generator tools, Kialo for online debates, Inklewriter for interactive stories are available for use by teachers.

Higher Education
Industry has been complaining of skill gaps in new recruits from colleges and universities. Earlier, hiring was based on skills but now behavioural and cultural traits are also assessed. A student may be having good communication skills and technical skills but lacking in certain behavioural traits such as collaboration or decision making needed for a particular job. “If there is a gamified method to understand the behavioural traits  of MBA, Engineering or MSW students for example, to assess the fit for the career he or she is aspiring for, skill gaps can be sorted out,” according to Deepu Xavier, Co-Founder of Zappyhire, providing HR gamified solutions to industry and academia.

Dr Varghese Panthalookaran, Professor, Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology (RSET) pointed out that Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects can be better taught through serious games. “I teach engineering physics and such topics as oscillation, refraction, interference can be taught effectively if we identify an action verb and develop the game which will enable immersive learning,” he added.

When it comes to startups, the pandemic has created a situation where some employees may be working remotely while others may be on site. Here gamification of HR becomes very relevant to ensure productivity and efficiency, according to Nilesh Sinha, Chairperson of Confederation of Global Innovators (CGI), HR Analyst and Gamification expert. HR gamification helps in lowering attrition, learning and development, training and development and increased happiness index, he added.

Approaches to Gamification
There are two fundamentally contrasting approaches to gamification. One is the Neo-Scientific approach where learners are considered as rational individuals and games are considered as system with lots of information and incentives, according to Nibu John Thomas, Gamification Researcher at IIT Madras.  In such a learning system game-like environment is created with non-monetary incentives, data tracking and nudging to make learners perform better. The other approach is the humanistic one where games are meant to creative positive and meaningful experience. It involves creation of games, positive affordances, unpredictive processes and come under the realm of positive psychology and humanistic management. Neo-Scientific approach which comes under the realm of scientific management and operations research maybe more suited for education system where the model is instructor led while the humanistic one is for the consumer market which is learner driven.

UNESCO had used the Grand Master Challenge, a mobile app to promote tourism in the medieval city of Rome. “Now we are using gamification to enable peaceful co-existence of communities in two provinces in Afghanistan where people have returned from Pakistan and Iran. We are also planning gamifying approaches to integrate the 5000 Taliban prisoners released so that they don’t go to the battlefield again and reintegrate with the non-combatant civilians,” according to Nasir Kaihan M A, Project Officer, UNESCO, Kabul.

Gamification is 75% psychology and 25% technology, according to Dr K Thiyagu, Asst Professor, Department of Education, Central University of Kerala. Creation of learning objectives, content development, multiple performance levels, increasing difficulty levels, adding game elements, points, leader boards and rewards and appropriate choice of gamification tools are necessary to make gamified learning effective, he added.

Melvin Bell,
Cofounder of Focus Games, Glasgow, UK pointed out that gamification should not be considered as a revolution but an evolution. “When the keyboard was invented, we didn’t throw away the pencils. Instead we adapted the pencil to be used as stylus for use with tablets. Gamification is adding and complementing what is existing using the latest technologies,” he added.

“Parents should ensure that kids are given age appropriate games to play and Google Playstore  and Apple Store have certifications that provide the safety levels of each game,”  according to Amit Agrawal,Founder of OckyPocky, India’s first language learning app for pre-school children. The games or apps for children should be designed for de-addiction. “We adopt the best practices teachers follow in classrooms and implement it in our app. Kids love fun and appreciation. Teachers stick stars on the hands of kids as a token of appreciation, in our app children accumulate toys and coins. Even when they get an answer wrong they get a humourous response,” he added.

Even as the media is full of stories about gaming addiction, scientific and empirical evidence shows that only a significant minority have become addictive, according to Dr Mark Griffiths, Distinguished  Professor of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, UK.  Gaming disorder was introduced into the International Classification of Diseases in May 2019 by World Health Organisation (WHO) because a small but significant minority do gaming to the exclusion of all other activities in life and present clinical problems. “Just below 2% of studies done across the world suggest that people might have a gaming disorder. I use the word might, as most of them are self-diagnostic and not possibly showing clinical symptoms. Gaming disorder is not the same as gaming addiction,” Dr Mark Griffiths added.

 Road Map
 The digital natives of this era are born with creativity and a natural instinct to be creative and learn on their own which makes gamification an ideal strategy to make them effective life-long learners. “Unless we do research and come forth with serious and meaningful games, it might be difficult to convince parents, teachers and educational leadership,” Dr Meenakshi Narula commented.

Rahul P Balachandran of Inker Robotics said that conventional learning using chalk and board puts children into a state of boredom in the class room which can be eliminated by creative games. However, we lack an ecosystem for development of serious games.  The stakeholders have to be made aware of importance of serious games and better industry-academia collaboration will ensure that research-backed games using the most appropriate tools are developed. 

Content, technology and pedagogy should be blended in the right pattern to enable gamification of education, according to Dr K. Dr Varghese Panthalookaran pointed out that children can also be involved in the development of games that create an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit and thereby becoming active learners.

Conclusions and Recommendations
Scientific and empirical research has shown that gamification can improve cognitive abilities, academic scores, retention of knowledge and happiness.

2. Gamification is an evolution in learning using digital tools making best advantages that gaming can offer and not a revolution.

3. There are plenty of free gamification tools that teachers can use in online and classroom. Teachers, parents and principals have to be made aware of the beneficial impact of gamification in education.

4. Serious games should have an ideal mix of fun and learning.
5. De-addiction should be built into product design so that children become addicted to learning than games.

6. Only a significant minority are prone to gaming disorders, addictive behavior.
7. Gaming Disorder, Excessive Gaming, Gaming Addiction are not the same.

8. Neo-Scientific approach may be suited for instructor-led serious games.

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