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Critique of Farmville2: Video Games in Edutainment

April 8, 2013

Summarize one game from the four given at the beginning of this week. Describe motivating factors in it. Is it enhancing your motivation? Evaluate the game in terms of categories (Challenge, Fantasy, Control and Curiosity, etc. ) Malone (1980) suggested. (600~800 words)

I played the game Farmville2 in Facebook for several hours over the initial weekend this assignment was given. I felt that the game did not provide any educational content or motivational factors to continue play.

Video games can be useful in edutainment. Besides providing interactive educational content, they can also increase student motivation to learn. Learning can even happen intrinsically within the game without the explicit knowledge of the student. Malone (1980) hypothesizes that video games increase student motivation and learning through the channels of challenge, fantasy and curiosity.

Challenge can increase student motivation in video games when there is a clearly understandable goal, or object, of the game. Readers need to be able to identify with the game goals.  The game environment should be complex enough to allow for multiple levels of play. This increases the skill level required as the skills of the player improve. The goals must adapt to these varying levels of play. Goals may be explicitly defined in the game, or they may be opaque enough to allow the student to determine the goal. When goals are not clearly defined, the structure of the game should be such that students can easily determine how the game is played to create their own goals.

Fantasy is another characteristic of games that can increase student motivation to learn the content embedded in educational videos. Fantasy involves objects and images not actually present, but represented in the game. There are two types of fantasy found in video games. Extrinsic fantasy depends on whether skills are used correctly while in intrinsic fantasy, skills and the game are mutally dependent on one another. The author claims that video games with intrinsic fantasy are more interesting to students. Students become more interested in a fantasy game when the game “indicates how the skill could be used to accomplish some real world goal” (Malone, 1980, p. 164).

Curiosity can be a factor intrinsic to a player. It can increase student motivation independent of challenge or fantasy. Curiosity depends on information complexity. There are two forms of complexity, sensory and cognitive. Sensory curiosity is sparked from audiovisual effects. These effects however should supplement rather than distract from the content or they could distract the player from what should be learned. Cognitive curiosity takes place when the student wishes to have a sense of completeness in the game. The student is motivated to learn the content in order to put together and see the bigger picture.

Unfortunately I felt that Farmville2 failed miserably to meet any of the three factors when evaluating video games for educational purpose and motivation. In my opinion Farmville2 failed to meet the challenge motivational factor. There was no clearly identified goal given: is it to make the most money? Is the purpose to make the biggest farm? Is the purpose to make friends? Is the purpose to annoy facebook friends in the newsfeed (stated only half facetiously!). Perhaps I did not find a clearly identified goal because I did not identify with the game. Malone (1980) reminds us that the “goal [should be] presumably one with which the … readers could identify” (p. 162).  I also did not feel that there was any educational or even non-educational skill needed to play this game. All I did was click on objects when they were ready such as watering, harvesting, feeding or selling. Those clicks did not provide any educational value. Perhaps a fellow classmate said it best (although this was why she liked the game!) when she stated in the discussion forum that “It is a mindless break from reality.” (emphasis added by me).

While Farmville2 certainly is a fantasy place, it failed to meet the intrinsic fantasy criteria of accomplishing a real world goal. There is no real world application. In fact in an increasingly urban and suburban society where there is little understanding of the difficulty of the farming process, this game may actually further erode understanding of the difficult nature of farming. Players may be led to believe that food is as easy to grow and sell to market as four simple clicks on a computer.

Farmville2 failed in my opinion to raise my curiosity. I really didn’t feel engaged enough to care about any sense of completion to satisfy a cognitive curiosity. This is a personal opinion and others may have had different experiences.

Perhaps for the reasons given above, Farmville2 has plummeted from its early popularity. Use is down 50% from December 2011 to June 2012 (MacManus, 2012). The initial popularity was mostly due to social rather than educational, challenge, fantasy, or curiosity reasons. When friends become bored and gave up, that created a snowball effect. As MacManus hypothesizes, “[Farmville2] users have become tired of these meaningless games”.

While video games themselves may be effective tools for edutainment when they mean the challenge, fantasy and curiosity criteria, Farmville2 is not an effective example of this genre.

MacManus, R. (2012). The (Not So Sad) Decline of FarmVille & Zynga’s Other Villes. ReadWrite. Retrieved April 6, 2013, from http://readwrite.com/2012/06/14/the-not-so-sad-decline-of-farmville-zyngas-other-villes

Malone, T. W. (1980). What makes things fun to learn?: heuristics for designing instructional computer games. In Proceedings of the 3rd ACM SIGSMALL Symposium and the first SIGPC Symposium on Small Systems. Presented at the GSMALL.

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