My 2 year old has discovered the magic that is Yo Gabba Gabba

DJ Lance Rock and the Gabba Gang

This is one of the few kids shows that doesn’t make me want to bang my head against the wall so it’s fine. The show has cool early 2000s rock bands show up to play music, pop culture guests get beamed in to dance, and of course there is always a kid friendly theme. One time Anthony Bourdain popped in as Dr. Anthony to help one of the gang feel better. Another time Jimmy Eat World played an original song while riding on flying dogs. This show is a trip.

In one episode titled “Fun”, Plex (the magic robot!) asks the pretty deep question for a kids show: “What is Fun?”

As a gamified teacher, I think about this question quite a bit. In the gamification community some words get used that have multiple meanings. Other times some words are used interchangeably but have very different meanings. “Fun” is one of the Former. Game, Play, and Create are part of the Latter. With “fun” I have advocated for Nicole Lazzaro‘s 4 Types of Fun as a way to think about classroom design.

Easy Fun

When those unfamiliar with gamification hear “fun” they are usually thinking of kids playing games or goofing around. That is one possible meaning and an important one but it hides other possible definitions of the “fun”. According to Lazzaro this would be “easy fun”. If we apply this to Board Games “easy fun” is Pie in the Face.

Easy fun takes no skill, no strategy, and after about 5 minutes the “fun” is exhausted and boredom sets in. In the classroom, this is playing heads-up seven up or even Kahoot. When the novelty wears off the engagement is over. Was it fun? Yes, but is this the only way to have fun? No!

Other “fun”

The following information is from Nicole Lazzaro’s 4 Types of Fun Post. The other 3 types of Fun are

  1. Hard Fun – Fiero! That feeling you get from setting goals and overcoming obstacles or showing mastery.
  2. Serious Fun – Collecting Meaningful Rewards. Real World Consequences that enlivens a Boring Task.
  3. Social Fun – Interacting with people. Can be competition or cooperation but Communicating with others is key.

When gamification advocates talk about adding “FUN” to the classroom it doesn’t mean just playing games. It doesn’t mean just playing more Gimkit or adding commercial games. It might mean doing this but there are other ways of adding fun.

Hard Fun

A great way to add Hard Fun is to place obstacles in front of a student’s goal. For example, my student’s all grumble if I ask them to write a reflection at the end of class. So, instead of just having them write on paper I had them type their reflection on The Most Dangerous Writing App. This app requires that the person constantly type and if they stop typing then the screen goes red over period of a few seconds. If they don’t resume typing then they fail and have to start over. They are typing for the same amount of time with a prompt I would normally use but they have a new obstacle. I have seen similar challenges with story cube dice or not allowing the students to use the letter “a”.

Serious Fun

Serious fun is an element that I sometimes struggle with adding to the classroom. Lazarro’s description suggests that this type of play “changes how players think, feel, behave, or make a difference in the real world”. I have interpreted this in a few different ways. As a US History teacher, the first way is to have students engage in real world Historic activities. Over the years students have interviewed Veteran’s for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project and have recently been offered a chance to participate in the Story Corps project. The other way to interpret this is by creating games that can help students see the world in a new way; simulations and role-play fall into this category as well as some serious video games like Papers, Please. (Note: Be cautious with this as it is easy to slip into trauma inducing activities). When I created my History Underground theme we were using History to fight against fascism and oppression; knowledge and truth were power. This is something that I believe is a real-life lesson. One of my student’s favorite classroom board games (I teach 11th grade) is playing Secret Hitler. Through this game students learn how Fascism uses the rule of liberal society to undermine that society. They also learn the influence of lies and deception as well as the temptations of collecting power. One of the ways to “win” as a Liberal in the game is to assassinate Hitler before that player is elected. Of course, that is a fascist tactic. It allows a new way to understand the world. By the way, you can download the game for free at their website. The website also supports my interpretation and includes this fantastic and subtle joke:

Social Fun

If Quarantine has taught me anything it is that Social Fun is an important tool in the classroom. Building social bonds and connecting with friends is an important engagement tool. This is one of the reasons the lockdown has so tough on so many students. My own 7 and 10 year olds have complained about losing the best parts of school which are usually missing time with their friends or even (gasp) their teachers!

Concluding Thoughts

I was not entirely charitable to “Easy Fun”. This could also include building in a sense of exploration or creating a sense of awe. When I play Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim I can spend hours just exploring the map. Adding Easy fun is a good way to add world building or peak curiosity. If the only definition of fun though is the easy – goof off type though other educators will never truly understand the deeper power of gamification and game inspired designs.