Detour to the shores of Lake Mendota: GLS 8.0

This week I’m at the Games+Learning+Society conference at the lovely University of Wisconsin Madison, in the charming company of Play the Past colleagues Kevin Ballestrini and Jeremiah McCall. I promise yet another dreary post about the Great Chain of Practomime in two weeks’ time, but for today something brief, and to do with GLS, seems very much in order.

Kevin and I, together with Steve Slota, a doctoral candidate in educational psychology at UConn’s Neag School of Education (call us the UConn practomime team, if you want), are here on the same errand: to make the case for the validity—perhaps even for the excellence—of the particular form of game-based learning we call “practomimetic learning,” which tends to go simply by the name “practomime.” To be clear, my term “practomime” refers, at least according to my own usage of it, not only to play practices designed specifically for the transmission of skills and knowledge, but to all practices of performance in zones designated for play.

We’re here at GLS to talk specifically about Operations LAPIS (Roman culture and the Latin language), MENIS (ancient Greek culture and language), and BIOME (biology), three practomimetic curricula that we think pose a significant and interesting challenge both to traditional instructional methods and to nearly every existing approach to game-based learning. The underlying theory of practomime—that is, of the basic identity of games and stories, now enhanced with the idea of text as ruleset and deriving ultimately from a description first adumbrated by Plato of homeric epic as a form of cultural transmission according to a performative ruleset—is nevertheless essential to an understanding of why practomimetic courses represent a valid and perhaps a superior way of doing game-based learning.

Briefly, the idea that learning objectives and play objectives should line up in a 1:1 relationship comes directly from an understanding of homeric epic, and of fictive performance in general (μίμησις mimēsis), put forward by Plato above all in the story of the cave. This understanding grasps both that the potency of immersion for learning comes from game-rules and that in order to achieve the kind of higher order learning objectives to which Plato wanted his students to attain, the fictive, mimetic performance must be broken by meditation and analysis.

For that reason, we think that practomimetic courses pose a very significant challenge to the way many people are trying to implement game-based learning. We think that challenge goes beyond the obvious truth that you don’t need a screen to play a game, because when you realize what’s possible when the full resources of practomime, from homeric epic to Platonic philosophy to graphic novels to first-person shooters, are placed into the service of a learning environment, you harness at last the affordances of video games for the achievement of objectives that video games simply can’t get to on their own, and for which 3D environments are unnecessary.

As I write, I’ve seen encouraging things–above all some innovative ARG’s, which seem often to be able to get the learning objective/play objective connection right almost without effort–and discouraging things, like Colleen Macklin’s call in the Wednesday keynote for “No more games for learning,” which seemed to vacillate from hostility to the idea that games might be designed with learning objectives from a much more reasonable idea of balance between making such games and learning from games like Super Mario Bros. and Half-Life.

In the end, though, the existence of GLS is what matters most, and its amazing growth over the years. I can’t wait to share my own research, and learn from others.

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