Education Through ARGs

As we talk about the gamification of education, I always come back to my elementary school cafeteria. They came up with a new way to keep the cafeteria quiet. A traffic light hung at the far end of the cafeteria and as long as we were quiet it would stay at green, a bit too loud yellow, and way too loud red. At that point, we were given a minute of silence.

The game was obvious.

How fast can you make the light red without getting blamed.

Although ARGs seek to be less constrained by rules and non-punitive, that traffic light is my best example that no matter what if there is a game element, people will game it.

I’m interested in comparing the summer experiences: Source and S.E.E.D. to the more permanent experience of Quest to Learn. Some key differences and similarities I noted in these programs:

  • Choice: the UChicago programs were short experiences chosen by the players to participate in. In contrast, most middle and high school students have less choice in where they go to school. In many ARGs the choice to play is essential. How do you navigate a group that has not necessarily chosen to play?
  • Time: Typically, ARGs are relatively short lasting in measures of months. In the UChicago programs, each session had a clear narrative. Similarly, Quest to Learn breaks down each class into having its own narrative. Both of these programs must manage the game to fit into a specific time frame, while continuing to engage students in different ways.
  • Success Metrics: ARGs tend to lack clear success or failure, just the progress of the narrative. Summer programs are a great way to engage with this since there is little pressure to prove oneself, and it is a step back from the highly structured school environment. Therefore, the UChicago programs seem more easily suited for ARGs. However, Quest to Learn requires metrics, if only to prove itself. Despite the attempts to shift the perception and punishment of grades, I wonder how you balance a game that measurably effects the outcome of your life without incentivizing “gaming” the game.

Even with best intentions, you can always make a traffic light. The question is how to change the game once you have made it.