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August 09, 2021 Monday 01:40:49 PM IST

Seriously? Learning Through Games

Cover Story

Seven years ago, Rhemie Aquino, a 12 year old boy appearing in The Aviators TV, a reality show on Global Television Network (GTN) could easily land a 737 Boeing in a flight simulator without any prior training. The YouTube video Can a Kid Land an Airliner with 0.8 million views is still trending. How could Rhemie do it? We must thank Bill Gates. For it was Rhemie’s exposure to Microsoft Flight Simulator game that helped him doing something which was considered impossible. And if you thought games are just intended to all fun and to engage in violence, you may be totally wrong. According to Dr Manu Melwin Joy, Asst Professor of School of Management Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) and a gamification evangelist, of all the type of games, the most popular is the strategic games outclassing shooter games, arcade games, sports games and puzzles.

For example, in the Age of Empires game - you are given all the resources- wood, ore and gold. With that the players have to built the empire and defend it. This requires lot of strategic thinking. It is one of the most needed skills of the 21st century. “Corporates are shelling out millions of dollars to build strategic thinking among their workforce. So whether we like it or hate it we cannot ignore it- that is why gamification is taking the world by storm,” Dr Manu Melwin Joy said.

Behaviourism vs. Constructivism
Normal classroom training which makes students passive learners in an top-down instructor led approach is being questioned by innovators in education as many of the 21 st century skills can’t be imparted to children in this manner. The worlds of evolving Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Robotics calls for a constructivist approach where learners create their own knowledge from own experiences and shared experiences.

Games are argued to be an appropriate means to centre the learner, making it possible to learn in a meaningful way, to emphasise problem solving, and to approach learning as an active process of understanding, according to M Prensky, (Digital game-based learning, McGraw-Hill, New York, 2021).

Gamification provides an immersive learning experience for both learners and teachers as well, according to Dr Meenakshi Narula, Principal of Shemford Futuristic K-12 School, UP. Teachers are no longer the sole dispensers of knowledge or even facilitators. "They are the co-learners and co-researchers. They have to do research on providing the 21st century experience to learners. Through gamification, unconscious learning takes place; she added. When the right digital tools are introduced in online learning, children will become addicted to learning than to games.

Games Become Mainstream
Games are no longer niche and has been accepted into mainstream in education, industry and tertiary sectors, according to Melvin Bell, Co-Founder of Focus Games, Glasgow, UK, There is no limit to the range of topics than can be addressed through serious games, according to him. Children instinctively enjoy games and the fun element in it. Games allow peer to peer learning, enables collaborative learning.

“Games are not trivial. Our Appearance Game helps young children appreciate diversity, understand differences as was revealed in a University study of randomized controlled children of 9-11 years.

Gaming not only improves social and educational skills but also makes behavioural changes as evident from the outcome of Flu Bee Game that was developed with National Health Service, UK for adults. A survey showed that 81% enjoyed the game, 33% improved perception of vaccine, and 84% with 'vaccine
hesitancy changed their minds.

The four critical areas for a teacher to focus on while implementing gamification. They are Pedagogical (curriculum -based planning and tutoring), Technological (analysing games and tools), Creative (playful stance, ability to explore and improvise) and Collaborative (sharing and co-development, networking and collaboration). This is based on the model developed by Tuula Nousiainen, Mikko Vesisenaho, Emiliia Ahlstrom and others, according to Dr K Thiyagu, Department of Education, Central University of Kerala.

Addiction
Dr Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University had spent the last 34 years studying behavioural addictions and doing research on video game addictions for the past 31 years. And he believes that he has published more research on video game addictions than any other
person on the world. Even though I do research on gaming addiction, I am not anti-gaming in the slightest. All three of my children are avid gamers, he remarked while making a presentation as a panelist at the 73rd Rajagiri Round Table Conference on gamification in education. He said that as the Zoom event was going on, his youngest son was playing games in the other room! And perhaps making the digital natives of this era involve in game design can go a long way in utilizing their energy and talents

Gaming, Memory and Happiness
Are we likely to remember sad or happy experiences? What does the brain do during sleeping hours? A team of researchers led by Virginie Sterpenich, Senior Researcher and Lecturer at Department of Basic Neurosciences, University of Geneva used a combination of two video games and monitoring the brain
of volunteers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) to understand how memory consolidation and emotional management happens during sleep. The researchers were curious to know which brain regions were activated during sleep and to what extent positive emotions play a role in this process. As an offshoot, the study helped researchers gain invaluable insights on how games can lead to better memory and happiness.

To conduct their experiment, the scientists placed volunteers in an MRI in the early evening and had them play two video games – a face-recognition game similar to ‘Guess Who?’ and a 3D maze from which the exit must be found. These games were chosen because they activate very different brain regions and are therefore easier to distinguish in the MRI images. In addition, the games were rigged without the volunteers’ knowledge so that only one of the two games could be won (half of the volunteers won one and the other half won the second), so that the brain would associate the game won with a positive emotion.

The volunteers then slept in the MRI for one or two hours – the length of a sleep cycle – and their brain activity was recorded again. “We combined EEG, which measures sleep states, and functional MRI, which takes a picture of brain activity every two seconds, and then used a ‘neuronal decoder’ to determine whether the brain activity observed during the play period reappeared spontaneously during sleep”, Sophie Schwartz , Professor of Neurosciences explains.

Brain Likes Rewards
By comparing MRI scans of the waking and sleeping phases, the scientists observed that during deep sleep, the brain activation patterns were very similar to those recorded during the gaming phase. “And, very clearly, the brain relived the game won and not the game lost by reactivating the regions used during wakefulness. As soon as you go to sleep, the brain activity undergoes a change. Gradually, our volunteers started to ‘think’ about both games again, and then almost exclusively about the game they won when they went into deep sleep”, says Virginie Sterpenich.

Two days later, the volunteers performed a memory test: recognising all the faces in the game, on the one hand, and finding the starting point of the maze, on the other. Here again, more the brain regions related to the game were activated during sleep, better were the memory performances. Thus, memory
associated to reward is higher when it is spontaneously reactivated during sleep.

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