312: The Games People Don't Play

The Games People Don't Play

Dora the Explorer is a videogame; you just don't play it.

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Awesome article Steve! Thanks for the good read :]

Interesting article.

I think they're also tapping into the fact that for a lot of young kids these days watching someone else play a videogame is hardly unusual. Any nipper who has an older sibling or a gamer parent is most likely to become familiarised with many core gaming concepts well before their first gaming session from observation and engagement with the player as well as the game. Often it gets to the point that when they get to actual play they only need to familiarise themselves with the controls and they're good to go.

Kind of strange to hear about another media using this concept.

That has been one of the most unique articles I've read in a while.
Thanks for sharing it with us :D

Sorry.

image

Just had to.

It's worth saying that her inventory (Backpack) is actually a character as well. So that part of the "game" can translate into RL as well.

I blame Dora for how scary smart with games my niece is. At least, I think Dora was on when she was in that target age... If not...

The_root_of_all_evil:
Sorry.

[snip]

Just had to.

There's been times I said that in actual games of TF2 when all talk is on.

this article is terrifying.

the show that you describe isn't teaching children how to think critically. I haven't watched the show - so maybe you're just assuming I know all the unmentioned good that comes out of it (a quick search brings up the notion that it is mostly about teaching Spanish...).

What you describe however: is teaching impressionable children how to play the dora game. This won't serve them in life. This will just prepare them to want to buy the dora product. what you're describing is marketing. Collecting stars and recognizing mouse cursors - is not precious knowledge that our kids need help with.

... maybe I'm overreacting.
I'm not clear how much the shows creators were doing this based on developmental psychology, and how much they were just trying out a new scheme to make a buck.
here is the official blurb from them: http://www.nickjr.co.uk/shows/dora/creators.aspx

by page 5 they do mention specific educational research: http://www.nickjr.co.uk/shows/dora/creators.aspx?pg=5

and by page 7 they mention extensive testing to ensure kids find it thrilling and funny. this really creeps me the fuck out.

I don't see mister rogers here, doing what he can to fight back against corporate interests. I see a corporate machine fine tuning it's ability to hook em while their young.

However. I should really just go watch an episode and stop wondering which way it leans. just wanted to post my rather "differing" opinion of what may be going on here (and note how your article appears to those who don't watch the show).

warrenEBB:
this article is terrifying.

You raise some fair points but you're overreacting. Yes, the show is about marketing a larger brand, but that's true of everything that's on TV these days. Outside of public television, there's not a single network out there that will produce a show it knows is going to lose money. You can call it a money grab, but you'd have to aim that accusation at almost everything else our society produces.

By watching shows like Sesame Street or Pinky Dinky Doo, kids learn how letters make words, words make sentences, and sentences make stories. Literacy, the decoding of symbols and the ability to place them in a larger context, is an essential skill taught by these shows. Dora is just developing another kind of literacy. Game designers have spent billions of dollars and man hours refining GUIs to be as communicative and intuitive as possible and Dora gives children a clear reference for those symbols that has value outside of her brand. I've seen it myself in the way my kids can take to other computer games that share the patterns and interface conventions common to the medium.

More and more, screens are taking the place of our face-to-face interactions. Whether you're paying for gas, checking in at an airport, or ordering a movie, many of our daily activities now require familiarity with computer interfaces. Moreover, the idea of having special clubs with special rewards, whether it's at the bookstore, the supermarket, or the car rental place, increases the saturation of games-like thinking in our everyday lives. Dora's done a great job of introducing some of those concepts to our kids.

There's definitely a need for education in other areas -- moral, artistic, cultural, etc. -- but the creators of Dora are fulfilling an important role here. It may coincide with their financial prosperity, but that's not reason enough to dismiss the value of what they offer.

Steve Butts:
The Games People Don't Play

Dora the Explorer is a videogame; you just don't play it.

Read Full Article

It's a mixed blessing, really.

Phenomena like this reveal the power of interactivity to motivate responses and instill certain behaviors. You'll probably notice I'm not willing to call it a "game." Just "interactivity." You'll probably also notice I'm not willing to say "teach," but rather just "instill."

There is no doubt that a medium like this has the potential to teach through games. But simply having interactivity doesn't make something a game, and seeing behaviors emerge from interaction doesn't mean that learning is taking place.

There is a marked difference between "teaching" and "training." We train animals, and we do it using positive reinforcers to incentivize participation. In the strictest sense, yes, offering a bird a treat when it says "Hello" is a game (to the bird, at least).

Games are much better at training than they are at teaching. The difference between the two is hard to pin down, because it's purely cognitive. When someone is taught something, they understand the reasoning rather than just the fact. They are able to apply this knowledge to novel situations and explain it to others.

A bird can be trained to say, "Hello." They can be trained to attach it to a certain event (like someone entering the room), for the appearance of using the word in context--greetings are a simple concept, really. Train the bird to say, "two plus two is four." Okay. Then teach the bird to say that whenever you hold up two fingers on each hand. Easy enough. But does the bird understand it? No. (There are a few exceptions, particular among African Grey parrots, but that's a whole 'nother bit...)

Training simply draws cause-effect relationships along predictable chains. Move mouse, pointer moves with it. Repeat phrases, earn praise. It's an important building block to learning--training provides the components, learning shows us how to assemble them into usable devices.

So, then there's Dora. Excellent for training certain Spanish words, pattern recognition, and certain aspects of navigating a GUI. And for the age group being targeted, that's fine. But overall, I think it would be a mistake to over-praise this sort of thing, because we can end up missing some of the incidental training.

Shows like this can lull both kids and parents into believing that this show, and thus this channel, are providing quality viewing. TV is your friend, and it only wants what's best for you. And then, over time, TV changes the game:

Just like the bird saying, "Hello," people get trained. The grocery store offers you a deal--buy two, get one free! Well, you were only going to buy one, but suddenly you've got this incentive to buy another to get the free one. And the store tells you about how much you've just saved... when, in reality, you spent more than you went in there to spend. That's a game, too. And it's one a lot of people didn't realize they were playing.

So, yeah. Mixed blessing, double-edged sword, all that.

warrenEBB:
snip

I quoted you on this one, because I felt my reply was relevant to your feelings as well.

Interesting article and I've never thought of the cursor in Dora the Explorer that way. [1]

I have a question to you people who know/have kids who watch this: Do they actually get up and do what Dora tells them to do? I have 3 nieces and 2 nephews, and I have babysat countless children; I've never, EVER seen one of them interact with these types of shows beyond saying things like "Look! Funny!" or something like it.

For example my niece, when she was younger, loved this dancing kids show on the BBC so for her 5th(?) birthday she got a DVD with it. I was up there dancing with the DVD but she flat out refused. It was to be WATCHED, none of this participating malarkey. (<--her eyes clearly said this as she stared at me shaking my groove thang. I still have the Funky Monkey chorus stuck in my brain FYI.)

Anyone?

[1] BTW, in Sweden she doesn't teach Spanish, she teaches English. So does Handy Mandy. I find some weird humour in that when I watch them and see all the Hispanic culture references.

Huh...what a surprising way to look at it. I never thought about Dora that way.
Really like the article. I'll make sure to pass it along :)

Steve Butts:
Though it's an absolutely terrible word, the concept itself is exciting and important.

I couldn't surmise my thoughts on gamification so brilliantly.

Dastardly:
Stuff about 'teaching' and 'training'

Fair enough, but as you say yourself, the difference between the two concepts is hard to pin down. The problem, I think, is not so much about which one stuff like this is doing, but which one traditional 'teaching' is doing. After all, the whole gamification shebang came around because of its similarity to what traditional education is already doing - do things right, get rewards, do things wrong, get no rewards or get a punishment.

If you look at education as a game, it's a pretty shitty one - it's completely linear, full of drags that slow the whole thing down, and you often have to remember minute detail to advance. Gamification is essentially trying to turn the bad early 90's adventure game that is education into Deus Ex. Or WoW. Oh God please don't be WoW.

Interesting article. I cant help but feel teaching kids the standards of video games is completely useless though. Dispite the talk of gameification (that sounds like something a third grade teacher named) changing the world its really just cultural codes and standards in games bleeding into public conciseness as games rise in popularity. People understanding who Amrio and Master Cheif are as easy as they understand Ahab and Indian Jones is a process of MainStreamifacation (see I make silly words too). I dont really see learning this styuff as overall useful to kids though since it still seems fairly niche and I think it will stay that way. There are other skills, critical thinking, spelling, blah blah, that shows could teach children that I think could help them more. I know the show teaches both (hopefully) but games seems like a fairly unimportant aspect. (On top of that lets not forget all the people who learn to understand games without Dora and seem to do just fine. Baptism by fire in the form of just experience the thing is effective approach too and one that works for game-like things).

Interesting article. I've never actually seen an episode, so I never realised DTE was an adventure game without a player.

Perhaps I am cynical to wonder if the intent of the interactivity was more about getting hooks in young people's attention (and therefore their parents' wallets) than about education or promoting game-literacy.

I guess if it does both that counts as a win, right?

I remember thinking this when watching the show with my nephew years ago. He has no trouble operating his laptop (a real one, not one of those shitty toys). I assume the show helped him with this because I know I didn't and his mother still doesn't know how to use a PC.

The Random One:
Fair enough, but as you say yourself, the difference between the two concepts is hard to pin down. The problem, I think, is not so much about which one stuff like this is doing, but which one traditional 'teaching' is doing. After all, the whole gamification shebang came around because of its similarity to what traditional education is already doing - do things right, get rewards, do things wrong, get no rewards or get a punishment.

If you look at education as a game, it's a pretty shitty one - it's completely linear, full of drags that slow the whole thing down, and you often have to remember minute detail to advance. Gamification is essentially trying to turn the bad early 90's adventure game that is education into Deus Ex. Or WoW. Oh God please don't be WoW.

But that's just it--there's a limit to what "gamified" education can teach, because it is (in essence) just behavioral conditioning. It's great for training behaviors or other simple processes... it's not great for imparting knowledge. Any knowledge picked up during these games is a side effect, making it an extraordinarily inefficient way to teach intermediate or advanced concepts.

Truly learning is rarely fun. It requires that we come face to face with things we don't know and are not comfortable with, which is not fun. However, if we 'endure' and come through it, two things can happen that can make it enjoyable:

1. We get better at doing it, and the discomfort passes faster.
2. We enjoy the feeling of being capable, and that makes it easier to see through the discomfort.

That's where we can really improve education. If we focus on building students' ability to learn, and we make sure that they are using that knowledge in a way that makes them feel capable, we can teach them to deal with that inherent discomfort. Covering up the discomfort is not the same thing.

Yes, a spoonful of sugar can help the medicine go down, but in education we only get to administer one spoon a day--due to time and money constraints. The more sugar we put on that spoon, the less medicine will fit, and the less effective it will be. Additionally, we run the risk of training students not to be able to take medicine without sugar... or even to take it when it's not mostly sugar. I'll stop before I stretch that metaphor any thinner.

What a great article. With a kid soon to be on the way I'm finding things like this more and more interesting. Dora the Explorer seems to be setting a clever new trend for kid's TV that I will no doubt notice in a lot of shows from now on.

I am a little disappointed with the pointless item collection that you mentioned though, and warrenEBB made some good points on marketing. At the end of the day business is business.

Interesting article, a really nice read.

Dastardly:
That's where we can really improve education. If we focus on building students' ability to learn, and we make sure that they are using that knowledge in a way that makes them feel capable, we can teach them to deal with that inherent discomfort. Covering up the discomfort is not the same thing.

I heartily dig what you're saying, Dastardly.

I work at Oregon State University, developing online learning games to support online courses, so I'm knd of obsessed with the problem. :)

I'm currently obsessing over the idea that people need an introduction to the basics of problem solving. everyone should be able to explain what "deductive reasoning" is, but few people seem to know or care. But it's a basic crucial skill if you want to figure shit out (like deducing whether an article or a game was honest, or a form of propaganda.). Wish games would help people learn how make decisions, rather than give them a way to avoid thinking.

I don't know about the Dora game, because it's skewed towards a very young audience (and I haven't played it). I don't follow the grade school (or earlier) levels of edu-tainment. but definitely interested in the techniques. and hope it is indeed serving the kids. I may be too biased against trusting anything that makes lots of money off children. (nintendo makes lots of money off kid-friendly games. Apparently their CEO thinks of video games as part of the toy industry. and I don't distrust Nintendo. soo. mind open.). ... Just wish there was more of a "mister rogers" for video games. doing it purely for the public good.

I enjoy playing games myself too, just for fun, but often feel they are a wasteful distraction (just triggering pleasure responses with their false achveivements, or getting my adrenaline up).

With my work, hope to focus more on figuring ways to slip "basic deductive reasoning" concepts into the game genre's we enjoy, without mucking up the fun. seems like crossing the line between education and games is the holy grail. which is weird, because you'd think they are the same, historically. (Gabe Newell gave a speech at Games For Change about this very topic? I haven't watched the recording yet, but am already daydreaming over how to make a Portal Mod which could actually help someone pass last year's SAT).

anywho. feel like i have a point somewhere, but i'm just rambling around aimlessly, and it's 1am and i'm falling asleep. Time to stop this TYPING!

warrenEBB:
snip

I think games are currently swinging between two extremes, hitting a good middle on the way (occasionally). Early "hard" games were really just matters of execution--maintaining focus and concentration, while building the requisite muscle memory to operate within the game's physical environment. Pac-man, Mario, Galaga, Pong...

Then we have games that are about puzzles and reasoning. Plenty of very good ones. They put a problem in front of you, they put the tools you need to solve it... and that's where problems arise. A lot of games then proceed to tell you how to use those pieces to solve the problem. And then they stop. They don't then put you in a new situation with a similar problem, but without explicit guidance or an overabundance of hints to make you go, "Hey, it's just like earlier, doofus."

And it's simply because games are designed to sell before they're designed to teach. Not anyone's fault, just a sad fact of the business. There are plenty of things that could "do a lot of good," but they never will unless someone is making sure they're used that way. (This is, for instance, why giving tax breaks to the rich to "create jobs" never works--no one makes them create jobs with the money.)

But it's good to know more and more people are looking for ways to make it happen, as long as (like you) they realize that games are really only good for reinforcing the basics. Not really teaching them in the first place, and certainly not teaching anything advanced. They can be more than just glorified flash cards to remember facts, but they'll never replace standing face-to-face with the uncomfortable process of real learning.

I think the big reason Behind this,is that these all games are non-scientific and Low graphics.
Any ways i really like the way you expressed your thoughts! keep it up.
r4i card

Anyone see that football game with dogs lol looks kinda funny. One game i probably won't play.

 

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