Creating possibility spaces
To start with, a distinction must be made between game-based learning and the gamification of learning. Gamification, as defined and understood at the moment, takes a fully formed concept or practice and adds game/play elements into it. Game-based learning as a process builds a concept from the ground up to be a game/play experience with clear learning outcomes. With gamification, the question usually asked is: “Where can the fun be found in this?”, whereas with game-based learning the “fun”, as it were, is already inherent to the learning experience. It is not that the game-based learning methodology dictates that everything should become a game, not all math should be taught from within a Triple-A online game title. No, game-based learning is taking those dynamic elements and those mechanics that are found in Triple-A, Independent, Tabletop or classic games, and using them to enhance and/or augment a learning experience. After all every game at its heart is a learning experience for the individual playing it, teaching them new things as they progress and testing them in a practical environment. This is the true Game-based learning methodology that we will explore. When developing a learning experience according to the precepts of these definitions around game-based learning, several aspects of it come in to play. Each of the aspects will be explored in full, but in good game-based learning practices, each aspect must be given up front in bite-sized chunks, so that the initial seeds of understanding can be fostered for the later mastery of the overall concept. One of the first aspects is that the game/play experience is seen as taking place within its own “space”, and adheres to its own sense of time, and its own rules. This is then defined as the “possibility space”, and this is where the learning journey will begin. Another name for the possibility space is “The magic circle”. It is an abstract idea of a closed off area where anything imagined could be possible. The space or circle is where all the other aspects are housed, and all other aspects inform how the space will be managed and experienced. The next aspect is voluntariness, individuals who enter this space should always be well informed, with what is expected of them, so that their choice is a voluntary one. Within this space, the expectation will be that the learning will be hard work, challenging, but also life enhancing and enjoyable. The following aspect is that there will either be clear goals that can be broken down into short, mid, and long-term goals, or a set of rules (explanations; like the reader is experiencing here) and/or limitations to help nurture self-determined goals. Either will allow the individual room for self-discovery, and hopefully for a level of self-directed exploration and innovation The space must also be constructed in such a way that feedback of failure or success is direct, unbiased and immediate. This gives rise to the next aspect around success and failure. Failure will, and should be the most prominent end-state for the individual, as with general game/play experiences; the act of failing elicits experiential knowledge, allowing for reiteration and innovation. Failing will therefore be an epic experience that relays positive feedback to the individual, thus driving them and motivating them to succeed the next time. Epic in the case of this piece refers to a transcendent feeling within an individual. A feeling that is strong enough that it leaves a long term memory of the experience that they have had. The final aspect of the space is that there is a community living and thriving in it and that this community is part of a clear shared semiotic domain. This community of individuals will promote relatedness, social experience, and a drive to collectively master and improve this space. Each of these aspects is integral to the possibility space and each will be broken down into its various components of how they all interact with each other and promote a robust learning experience for the individual, to motivate them and to strengthen them as people.
The magic circle
The first aspect is the creation of the “possibility space” itself, it is an abstract concept and environment that will be the container for the learning experience. This possibility space is best expressed from the thought school of ludology “(…) play is an activity confined by time and space” (Huizinga, J., 1939 trans. 1955) and by two prominent thinkers in game-base learning “(…) Play is an open-ended territory in which make-believe and world-building are crucial factors. Games are confined areas that challenge the interpretation and optimizing of rules and tactics – not to mention time and space” (Walther, B.W., 2003); “(…) video games create what psychologist Eric Erickson called a ‘psychosocial moratorium’ – that is, a learning space in which the learner can take risks where real-world consequences are lowered.” (Gee, J.P., 2007). These three quotes illustrate that the game/play experience becomes its own space, as Huizinga calls it: “a magic circle”. Within this magic circle a different world can exist with its own rules and expectations. The space is literally a container for all the other aspects that are associated with game-based learning. One could almost say its creation is true emergence, it occurs because the right conditions, limitations and expectations are in place for it to be able to exist. The possibility space is the abstract area that separates a game-based learning experience from a gamified one. As was mentioned before, gamifying is the activity of trying to find the fun in something, but in this instance; Fun is the process of discovery/exploration within a possibility space. And fun is a powerful motivator for individuals to continue with something that can be challenging to achieve. Constructionism plays a large role in defining the possibility space. Within the ideas of constructionism, the space offers free-form exploration, it allows individuals to realize their own goals and the educator/facilitator is there as a distant guide to help reach those goals, not as an omnipotent being waiting to jump in at a moment’s notice. Instructions on the other side can be placed in the possibility space but is only really relevant when there is a very clear goal in mind that requires direct knowledge transfer. There is no real exploration as such, only direct discovery. An example would be of teaching someone how to boil water, there really is only one discovery of how to do that procedure correctly and safely. But with all of this, there is one key rule that these magical circles or possibility spaces share, and that is that if the individual wishes to enter it they must enter it voluntarily and thereby adhere to the expectations of it.
Entering the game space voluntarily is one of the more important moments when a person ‘on-boards’/decides to participate, in a game/play experience. The reason behind its importance is due to many layers. An easily understood aspect/definition of voluntariness is buying-in to an idea. Being forced into a space results in negative feelings and reluctance or worse, resistance. This difference between choice and control relates back to Edward L. Deci’s Self-Determination Theory (SDT), which is strongly applicable to the possibility space. One of the elements within SDT is autonomy, and one of the most important precepts within that is authenticity of the self. Voluntarily accepting something is a show of autonomy and to be truly autonomous one must be authentic with who they are. If an individual is forced into a space then their autonomy is removed, they will feel controlled and will ultimately be alienated from the experience. This alienation will manifest itself in either of two outcomes, one can be compliance and the other resistance. Compliance can often be seen as the more favorable outcome but it can be as destructive, the destructive nature will usually manifest internally for the individual. Complying is a passive activity, much like the average child in a school, or average office worker is compliant to their environment, they go with the tide, but no real learning or accomplishments are achieved, no real understanding is gained, they are simply doing it because that gets them through the day. It is the path of least resistance. Resistance on the other hand then is the external destructiveness, this is the child that is the class-clown, acting up, disrupting the day, and using their energy for a different out let. Or the office worker that complains, vocally naming issues and not providing solutions. They will also achieve no real learning or understanding of what they are being taught. Thus autonomous voluntary on-boarding allows the individual the choice to be open to the experience awaiting them within the possibility space. But it is not a blind choice, as expressed before, the possibility space adheres to its own rules and expectations, which if understood by the individual once entering the space, it empowers them. It offers individuals the sense that they are indeed the ‘…masters of their fate, …(the) captains of their souls’ (Henley, W.E., 1888). They must choose to join, and the hardest question to answer will always be what moves the individuals to fully commit and voluntarily join in an experience.