Part of the chorus in Loser by Beck, above, is soy un perdedor, which translates to I am a loser. The title of this post is se un perdedor which translates to Be a loser, an important distinction.
After reading 10 Key Principles for Designing Video Games for Foreign Language Learning, I’ve been stuck on the first principle: At least as much thought needs to go into the design of failure states as for success states.
In very robust commercial games, it can be fun to lose. In fact, sometimes half the fun is trying to break the game just to see what happens. In racing games, it can be fun to try to crash spectacularly. In a first person shooter, it might be fun to shoot your teammates or other good guys, just to see what happens. Sim City has natural disasters that players can trigger because sometimes destroying a city simulation is just as important as building one.
Because making mistakes is a part of learning, it stands to reason that educational and language learning games should be fun to lose at. But are they? I can’t think of many examples in which losing is fun. Simple drill and kill games or hangman variants certainly are not (unless you really like to see the hangman hang, and eventually we all do.)
It’s important to account for this kind of curiosity when designing a game, because players will (presumably) lose, or at least make mistakes, quite often. If this experience is an enjoyable part of the process, they will want to try again, which is the whole point, isn’t it? Play the game more to keep learning.
This is taken into account in Blank Or Blank, a concordancer game I’m working on that I’ve written about before. By giving students control of the search terms and the corpus in which the terms are searched, students can try searching for two grammatically related terms (like go and goes) but also try something fun (such as kill and love) to try to break the game or at least use it in a new way.
In fact, if we view language learning itself as a game, or at least a puzzle, we can clearly see that students will lose (or make mistakes) far more often than they win (communicate comprehensibly), especially in the very beginning. Later in their learning, as winning is redefined (as making no mistakes or as speaking with a minimal accent, for example), they will still lose occasionally.
One of the promises of computer mediated communication for language learning is the low-stakes, face-saving nature of communicating via a computer instead of face-to-face with a real, live person. If the process of losing / making mistakes can be made fun and interesting, the game will be more fun and more useful because students will be more likely to learn more by playing the game repeatedly.
Are there many learning games where it’s fun to se un perdedor?