February 2017


This week’s post “Setting Students’ Minds on Fire” reminds me of a Ted talk called “The game that can give you 10 extra years of life”. In this Ted talk, Jane McGonigal introduced a set of real-life games called “SuperBetter” which can help people to adopt a new habit, to overcome depression,  and a life challenge. She said that SuperBetter is a gameful way of living to be stronger and happier. I was fascinated by her idea and purchased this app from app store.

In this app, it has several “powerpacks” such as “Being Awesome”, “Absurdly Grateful” and “Fun Days”. In each “powerpack”, there are several “quests” (daily and weekly goals), “power-up” (things that can trigger positive emotions) and “bad guy” (obstacles to overcome). “SuperBetter” asked me to do three “quests”, activate three “power-ups” and battle one “bad guy” every day. You can either play it alone or with friends if they also install this app. This program tracks your progress by what you have done and provides scores of resilience in physical, mental, emotional and social aspects. I played this game for one semester and enjoyed the self-development.  Finally, I stopped to play “SuperBetter” because it took me too much time, but I like the idea that game is not only for entertainment, but also can be used to adopt a new habit or skill and overcome life challenges.

This idea is more commonly used in nature. For example, lion cubs learn how to hunt by playing with their mothers and peers. Although what we are learning is much more complicated than that of lion cubs, I hope a gameful way of learning can be adopted into our life. Could someone design the multiple choice questions like a brain training game in the app store? Could teachers guide students to play with 3-D graphs to improve their understanding of abstract mathematical equations?

Many game companies are investing a lot of money to develop attractive games on our digital devices, because people would purchase. Our students spend a lot of money on tuition, but there is little incentive for teachers to develop games beyond primary school education. I think this may because most teachers do not have enough time, money or energy to do this like a company. Also, some of them might think that it is impossible to teach their materials through games, and others may doubt the learning outcomes of games. I was wondering under what situation games provide favorable learning outcomes compared with traditional methods. In that situation, how to provide educators enough incentives to develop and adopt games into their classrooms remains to be a big challenge.


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  • Sooooooooo, I may or may not have just downloaded SuperBetter after reading your post.

    As far as your question regarding what situation do games provide favorable learning outcomes: I feel like they would be best suited for active learning situations where an application of taught concepts would be useful (i.e. a government class, physics class, event planning class). A game + lecture combo incorporates several learning styles into itself.

    I think that given the millennial generation, there might be a few upcoming teachers in there not only with a knack for technology but an interest and willingness to develop and adopt games.

    • Ruoding Shi

      Thanks for your thoughts about when games are favorable and the incentive for the instructors. I agree that games are preferred when the class is more related to real life and needs a lot of applications of the concept.

  • I totally agree that games can help us in learning. I also believe that it can motivate students and encourage them while giving them a sense of competition between their peers. The main problem is: can we have game-based learning techniques for all engineering majors? Some of them require thought and mathematical solutions or even experiments. I also wonder how can we encourage this approach to be utilized in universities and institutions worldwide given the fact that they are systemized in the teaching strategies they implement (not flexible at all!)

  • You brought up some good points [the challenges]. As I was watching the Minds on Fire video I started to think about the skills a professor would need in order to shift students towards gaming. Several of my professors are adverse to technology and I think they would rather bury their face in a book. While textbooks are key to academia, so is innovation. Now, this might require some retooling on their part, but I think the payoff for all parties would be substantial.

    Thank you for the post.-Henry

  • Brett Netto

    I also just downloaded SuperBetter. I can’t wait to play around with the app. There is a similar one that I have been using recently. Have you heard of Habitica? Habitica is a free habit building and productivity app that treats your real life like a role-playing game. With in-game rewards and punishments to motivate you and a strong social network to inspire you, Habitica can help you achieve your goals to become healthy, hard-working, and happy. You can raise pets; do quests with friends; level-up as a warrior, mage, healer, or thief; and fight bosses. https://habitica.com/static/front

  • E. Clark

    I absolutely believe we can learn from playing games. In middle school, I remember playing a modified version of “Jeopardy” against my classmates to help us study content for tests. For some reason, the competition factor (and ultimately the thrill of victory) in these games really motivated me to learn the material I was to be tested on. Additionally, there are SO MANY digital games for young children that are meant to facilitate learning (e.g. Leapster, Hooked on Phonics, etc.). There are even apps for your phone that include games components geared towards learning everything from languages to anatomy. If games weren’t somewhat successful at engaging people in learning, I doubt they’d keep coming out with them every time you turn around.

    • Ruoding Shi

      Thank you for sharing your experience of learning from games! How fun it will be if our educators can develop more games for graduate students!

  • Andrea

    Thanks for sharing Ruoding! I think you have an interesting idea on maybe redirecting some of the education fees and invest them in creating new ways of learning such as a game-based method. I agree with your reasons on why there is some push-back in adopting some of these techniques but hopefully as the conversation around these topics intensifies, the educational system will take notice and follow suit.

  • It is surprising what kids learn from games. My son has played countless hours of Terraria, which has meant he has learnt hundreds of crafting material names and object names. These are nearly always real words not used in normal conversation but has motivated him to look them up, and learn their meaning.

    I think part of the issue is finding a game that can contain adaptable educational benefits that children actually want to play. Minecraft is virtually a one-off in that regard whereas attempts by small developers to make fun educational games usually come across as dull, clunky and clearly trying to “get in with the kids”.