Thursday, July 19, 2012

How Do I Make My Classroom Like The Legend of Zelda?

In James Paul Gee's article "Good Video Game and Good Learning," Gee discusses how teachers can create a better classroom environment if they emulate the world of video games.

He points out that gamers and games exhibit several qualities needed for the classroom.

One such quality is interaction. When you talk or interact with a game, it talks back. The environment and characters react to your actions and questions.

Wouldn't it be wonderful, Gee asks, if your classroom was just as interactive as a video game? Wouldn't it be lovely if your teacher provided you with constant "feedback and new problems"?

Another quality Gee discusses is risk-taking. When gamers play a game, taking risks is part of the process. There are no overwhelming consequences if you do something wrong the first time. If anything, failing is how you learn. Once you've failed once, twice, three times etc. you can restart the game and try again. This time, use what you know about what doesn't work to your advantage.

If only students could develop this kind of attitude toward school. Wouldn't it be super if they didn't care what their classmates thought? Wouldn't it be awesome if they didn't care about failing and cared instead about learning and advancing to the next stage (or perhaps level)?

Gee also talks about well-ordered problems. The games don't have you fighting the boss right away. They start easy and slowly advance through varying levels of difficulty until you're ready to face the big bad.

In teaching, we call this scaffolding. Wouldn't it be amazing if all teachers layered concept on top of concept until the students were ready to deal with the larger issue? Wouldn't it be fantastic if you learned how to swim before being tossed into the deep end? Gaming shows us it's better to take small steps first.

I could go on and on about Gee but I think you get the point.

Jane McGonigal (not to be mistaken for our favorite transfiguration professor), is a game developer who also sees the value in gaming. For her, if we can emulate the qualities exhibited by gamers, we can change the world.

She says in her TED talks video, "Gamers are super-empowered, hopeful individuals. These are people who believe they are individually capable of changing the world."

Gamers, for McGonigal, are defined by their Four Virtues. The first is Urgent Optimism. This is the "desire to act immediately, to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable chance of success."Gamers have a profound faith in themselves. They believe that they will succeed in their play. If we all could show that kind of optimism who knows what we could achieve?

The second virtue she mentions is Social Fabric. Mcgonigal says "playing a game with someone requires trust, bonds, and cooperation." Gaming, she says, teaches us how to work together, especially through games such as World of Warcraft which is a multi-player gaming format. If we could better cooperate... well, you know what would happen.

The third virtue McGonigal discusses is Blissful Productivity. She says "We are happier working hard than we are relaxing or hanging out." We, as people, need challenges. We need to work hard to maintain a level of happiness and satisfaction. We should use people's natural inclination toward hard work and success and use it to solve problems.

And the fourth virtue she mentions is Epic Meaning. "Gamers," she says, "love to be attached to awe-inspiring missions." We want to know that our actions have meaning. We want that story, that tale of adventure, and we want to accomplish something great, something epic. It's engrained. By giving people the chance to prove themselves, perhaps they can create, enact, or facilitate a change of epic proportions.

"The only problem," McGonigal points out, "is they [the gamers] only believe they can change the virtual world... [they're] using games to escape real world tragedy." Her solution? We make the real world more like a game.


  1. Thinking about how games scaffold learning to potentially help educators frame how they should scaffold their lessons in the classroom was one of the best points you clarified from Gee's paper. Thanks. I didn't make this direct connection while reading it. Though I haven't played too many games recently, I used to as a youth. I can remember many subplots, missions, etc. in The Legend of Zelda (as pictured) that effectively used scaffolding to allow the gamer to understand a more complex idea/ develop a more difficult skill with the game. I'd like to look further into this concept so I can see how it could relate to the classroom . . .

  2. Hmmm, well since we're discussing The Legend of Zelda, let's look at an example of scaffolding from this game and perhaps then we can see how it relates to the classroom.

    Usually, the main character sets out on a quest. Inevitably this quest leads the young hero, Link, to a cave, dungeon, castle, forest, etc. No matter its form, the place is always large with many rooms and obstacles the hero must navigate before he can reach his destination. Each room of the dungeon contains a puzzle. This puzzle may be to find a key. This puzzle may be to rearrange pots or tree stumps in the correct order to open up a secret portal. This puzzle may be to use a new tool in a new way.

    Each room builds on the next. Each puzzle becomes harder as the hero progress through the dungeon. If he finds a new tool, he must use it and continue to use it in new and interesting ways as he progresses. At some point he will solve enough puzzles and acquire a key, a big key. This key opens the door to the big boss. The hero then battles the boss using the knowledge he acquired as he made his way through the dungeon and he must use the tool he found along the way.

    So, how does this relate to teaching?

    Think of the big boss as your teaching objective for the semester or unit. But, before the students can face this objective (or understand it), they must go through a series of activities and puzzles. They must learn in small increments, one puzzle at a time. And each puzzle, or lesson, must build on the next. No step can be missed because each puzzle requires prior knowledge.

    The students also acquire tools as they proceed. These tools can also be called skills, such as reading, writing, or critical thinking. These tools will help the students find the key, or the knowledge they need to be learning, and this knowledge will open the door to that big boss or big idea.

  3. I can see it now. !!The Legend of Zelda Teaching Framework!!! Really, this is good way to think about scaffolding. I think we should play Zelda in class so that we can re-familiarize ourselves with its grade-A scaffolding techniques . . . but seriously, we should . . .

  4. That would be soooooo awesome. Now I just want to play Ocarina of Time . . .

  5. Haha I have never played Zelda before, but I was pretty big on Pokemon when I was a kid. (So yes, currently now I am trying to relate scaffolding to Pokemon...and I am not coming up with a whole lot haha). But I loved your reference to Zelda and how you explained it to Matt. Very tangible analogy.

    Teachers really need to learn how to do this scaffolding better. It would create such a richer learning experience if we could all take smaller steps. I was reading the Unrau chapter about assessing reading today, and how it is so hard to pick texts that are perfect for all of the students in your class. This kind of relates I think. Especially with reading. We have to get those struggling readers motivated to complete the level so they can move on and be better readers!

    I'm curious to know what you think though, Bekah. Do you agree with her?! You have to give the lady some credit for her pretty brilliant speech. Personally, I loved the thoroughness of it all and the way it was so clearly laid out. I can't figure out how you would get gamers to play the games that she invented though. I mean, I guess I just can't see like Pokemon, Zelda, Mario, World of Warcraft, or Call of Duty gurus about to totally switch over their favorite game to a game about saving the environment. While her philisophy is pretty stunning, and believeable (!!!) I just don't know how she is going to get enough people to play these games. When they wanna play a video game, they wanna put in their favorite one and get into that fantasy. That epicness.

    Also, loved the Harry Potter reference !!

  6. I share the enthusiasm of your readers over the deft way in which you translated Legend of Zelda into the terms of a rich educational experience, especially your emphasis on the importance of small steps and the (very apt) analogy between "tools" and skills.
    Like you and Abby, I find myself thinking a lot about how effective games can be at foregrounding an explicitly educational or pro-social orientation. McGonigal's games get a lot of attention (and you should have a look at Urgent Evoke, or her very recent SuperBetter) and many are convinced that they can not only orient gaming towards pro-social projects or personal betterment, but can do so while remaining compelling *as games*, which is the biggest trick of all.
    I'm a member of a team that designs online simulations for HS/MS students, and Abby's response in particular reminds me of a distinction we make between the increasingly pervasive idea of "serious play" (a category into which many expressly/ostensibly educational games are placed) and "playing seriously" (with the possibility of players--kids, especially--making meaning from their playful experiences in the classroom, or elsewhere).
    Your post generated some great discussion, Bekah...bravo!

  7. I like how you translated the Legend of Zelda into an educational experience as well, just brilliant.
    "The third virtue McGonigal discusses is Blissful Productivity. She says "We are happier working hard than we are relaxing or hanging out." We, as people, need challenges. We need to work hard to maintain a level of happiness and satisfaction. We should use people's natural inclination toward hard work and success and use it to solve problems."
    I would like to see the research to back up this statement, seems kind of like an opinion.. Charles would not approve! Need proof! Then again, where is my proof that we need proof? Hmmmm.
    "The only problem," McGonigal points out, "is they [the gamers] only believe they can change the virtual world... [they're] using games to escape real world tragedy." Her solution? We make the real world more like a game.
    That's what I said on my blog basically. I think we specifically need to make the classroom more like a video game in the sense that it challenges and guides students to where they need to be step by step. This video game lesson really was interesting wasn't it?