The Butterfly Effect – does it apply to Serious Games?

The Butterfly effect or the theory of Chaos. This is a great example of how one factor might lead to the inevitability of other factors triggering a series of events which lead to… Disruption!

And somehow in the protected world of Educators, Disruption is completely taboo. It is a subject which somehow cannot transpire. We, as Educators, are control freaks… we really are. Look at our classrooms, in tertiary education for example. Great example of complete control by the lecturer. Noone wanders off distant territories and if they do then they fail. And yet, what do we do? We preach creativity, we preach innovation… but are we serious?

I just read a very inspiring article by Simon Paul Atkinson: Serious Games and Social Media. It’s a great read and I truly believe firmly in what Mr Atkinson is saying. We have to stop fearing disruption. We have to stop fearing chaos. That is we have to stop, if we wish to truly deliver an education which is related to the 21st century way of living. We have been saying over and over again, and this comes up in the curricula and any form of educational reforms and policies. The latter stress the importance of creativity, fostering and nurturing critical abilities, higher order cognitive skills. Someone at a certain point rediscovered a buzzword, and a trend re-started. This trend, or the trend of games in Education, or serious games or virtual worlds, well this trend of playing games, is now finding its ways to schools but of course teachers are at a loss. On the one hand, they have rigid syllabuses in place, which they grip to as though they are life saving poles in the roughest seas. And on the other hand, they complain. They complain because whoever thinks up these syllabuses is not in contact with the reality which they face every day as they face each and every individual in their classrooms. And they are absolutely correct of course. How can I, as one individual, develop a plan, for the entire population across a country? This is what is happening in Malta. And yet, if one carries out any attempt of doing away with these syllabuses… ah then… panic will ensue. Because we are control freaks. We want to be in control and we want to constantly know we are on the right track. But what is the right track? Can this word be really and truly applied to Education? Can we really assimilate this one size fits all and categorise our students? And what about the teachers? What about their potential for creativity? What about their potential to deal with the different situations which arise in the classrooms?

And what is therefore so different with games? Why do some games succeed and others, aptly labelled as Edutainment, fail? Could it be a cause and effect similar to the Butterfly effect? Unpredictability, rules which are there but which are rather ambiguous, chaos… that is how learning occurs in games. It’s a survival of the fittest in games, and you can see it from the way gamers (serious gamers) handle their challenges. So what is with serious games and social media? Can these two somehow intertwine? Should they? Maybe yes, maybe not… maybe it depends on the context – on the individual needs. Let us stop controlling exactly what people learn and finally let people learn to survive. How can we teach them to learn? Social media, with its unpredictable directions, and serious games, with its distinct design elements which provide engagement, are two possible triggers for the chaos theory to take effect on Education. But we have to keep in mind that this is easier said than done. We need to loosen our grip and control over knowledge and deliver it to others.


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