How Failure Can Lead to Success Through Gaming

I spent an hour playing Angry Birds-Star Wars on my smartphone last night. I would have played longer, but the battery needed recharging.

I was sure if I could just bounce the blaster shots off the asteroid shields I could take out all six pigtroopers at once and get that third star, but it’s OK that I kept failing, because every failure teaches me about something that I should do differently the next time.

Throughout history, many well known people have also had their own opinions on failure.

When asked about his failures, Thomas Edison replied, “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Winston Churchill believed that “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” And in his Nike commercial, Michael Jordan said, “I've failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed."

So, when I’m playing my Angry Birds-Star Wars game on my phone three things are happening while I’m trying to get that third star: I’m failing miserably, I’m learning what not to do, and I’m having fun. I’ve learned it’s okay to fail in a game; it gives me the ability to  test out theories, practice different techniques, and even laugh at mistakes that keep me from succeeding – all  without any more penalty than starting the level over again. Getting to that third star is challenging but not impossible, and it’s fun not in spite of being hard, but because it’s hard.

Thomas Malone at Xerox/PARC ( asked two questions in 1980: 1) why are computer games captivating and 2) how can those features be used to make learning fun? He concluded that the answers to both questions were challenge, fantasy, and curiosity. But, as if he could imagine how the rise of “edutainment” in the mid-80s would fail, he noted that it would be “important to examine the interaction between learning and fun.”

The current interest in gamification of learning often focuses on engagement through overlaying game mechanics on the learning context—applying principles of competition like badges, leaderboards, and points or adding high resolution graphics and 3D animation. But extrinsic motivation doesn’t necessarily lead to better learning. Game designers know that these elements don’t automatically create a good game nor define “fun.”

Can a curriculum like Rasmussen’s Game & Sim Program teach how to make a game “fun,” and can education actually be gamified for better learning? More in my next post…right after I get that third star.

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William F. (Bill) Sattelmeyer is a full-time faculty member and program coordinator for the School of Design at Rasmussen College in Ocala, Fla. He has worked as a filmmaker, multimedia developer and game designer for over three decades. Bill also has a B.S. in Telecommunications from Kent State University and an MEd. in Learning & Technology from Western Governors’ University. Bill has taught digital design for over 10 years and has created multimedia and games for museums and companies like IBM, Sega of America, and Microsoft.

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