EntertainmentGamesInterview with Karl Kapp: "Videogames have great value in...

Interview with Karl Kapp: “Videogames have great value in today’s business world”


Karl Kapp is perhaps the greatest guru of learning through video games in the world. As deputy director of the Institute for Interactive Technologies (IIT) at Bloomsburg University, his ideas on gaming, technology and training have a great influence on both companies and public institutions. He’s a prolific author (six books, including his most recent, Play to Learn), a keen gamer (he’s totally hooked on Assassin’s Creed right now), and a charismatic speaker with a great sense of humor. Some websites have even defined him as the “rock star of e-learning“.

At Gamelearn we have had the opportunity to sit down and chat with him about the advantages of gamification and learning through video games ( game-based learning ), the new trends in corporate training and the future of learning.

– First of all, we would like to know how you began to be interested in the use of video games as a training tool. When do you start to unite videogames, education and training?

– That is a good question. My profession is a teacher of educational technology. So many years ago, while my kids were growing up playing a lot of games, I was making training tools. So I thought: Is there a way to combine the fun that my children experience with games and training and development?

I then began to investigate learning through video games and to study how the elements of the games could be used for training purposes; and thus my book Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning was born. I said to myself: “I am going to do some more training projects”. And that’s how it all started. So it was actually my children that motivated me to use games from an educational perspective.

– Although it is a very broad field, what do you think is the main advantage of using games for training purposes? What aspect would you highlight as the most important?

I think they have a lot of advantages, but the main one is that a well-designed game allows you to think in a non-linear way. Traditional training methods are often very linear, only allowing one way of thinking or moving forward. However, the world of work is very different. Jobs are very much systems-based, where you get a lot of things coming from different directions, and one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other. I think that one of the main advantages of games is that they help us to understand, approach, overcome and learn with a more system-oriented thinking, more critical than linear thinking.

– In fact, in one of your conferences you mention the idea that videogames allow you to “drive on the ocean . That means they allow you to think in an unconventional way, to think about the impossible.

– That’s it! Exactly. I believe that games allow us to devise and visualize situations that would otherwise be unimaginable or unthinkable. And that is something very valuable in different areas.

I’ll give you an example: in the 1970s, the British Petroleum company had a board game about how to become an oil magnate. One of the situations in the game involved a catastrophic failure in an underwater drilling. And I kept thinking to myself: “if the company managers have played the game and thought about it, they will know what to do if that circumstance occurs.” Therefore, games in which situations are simulated allow us to reflect on the different ways to solve them. And, in fact, they somehow mentally prepare the player for situations that he might consider impossible, that perhaps he believes can’t or won’t happen. So the idea of ​​”ocean driving” is the idea of ​​using games to think in a different way than you do on a daily basis.

Another of the most positive aspects of games is that they take the user away from everyday life. They situate him in a game space where he can experience learning without baggage, without preconceived ideas, since the game world in which he is immersed is a different world from the one in which he lives. This new world brings a different perspective that, once acquired, and after having experienced the world of the game, can be extrapolated to daily work. That’s when one thinks: “Oh, yes, I learned this when I was negotiating on a boat and now I know what to do.” So I think the game space provides the freedom to explore, reflect, and do things that you wouldn’t normally do, allowing you to think about the impossible.

– And what about corporate training? Do videogames provide any particular advantage in this field of training and development?

– Without a doubt, I believe that engagement is one of the great advantages of games. What I find most interesting is that they involve and motivate the participants on multiple levels: on a cognitive scale, because you have to think about certain situations; on an emotional and affective scale, because they allow emotional calibration of what is happening; and also connect and engage people on a social scale. Therefore, when one plays with others or there are other people who play the same game as one, the question inevitably arises “how did you solve that?” or “hey, in this game, did you try doing that?”, etc.

So games offer involvement and connection ( engagement ) in various areas and that is something very valuable in today’s corporate environment, where workers are often focused on their own, doing their work in a way that they really do not get to. interact in depth with anyone. They don’t interact with content in that way, they don’t interact with peers in that way… So game-based learning gives us this space where you can connect on a cognitive, affective, and social level.

And another really interesting aspect is that when a user participates in a game and gets involved in it, they start off in the same conditions as anyone else. He may end up having the same workload or suffering the same frustrations as his supervisor or superior, or even the executive vice president of the company. They all live the same situation. Each one may experience it differently as a result of their knowledge, but they all face the same obstacles, they must overcome the same difficulties. They live the same general experience. I believe that this lays the foundations of a fertile common ground where ideas and concepts can be compared.

Another interesting observation from the studies is that what differentiates an expert from a beginner lies in the set of experiences they have. And we know from research that it’s possible to create an experience in a use case or game-like environment. So, if someone wants to help their managers become vice presidents, for example, they can provide them with game-based learning experiences on critical thinking and quiz them on them to make future decisions. That is, you can put someone in a risky situation in a game, without having to put this into practice in a real company or organization.

– It is very interesting that you have pointed out that all the players are on an equal footing. Sometimes when I talk to workers who have played some of our Gamelearn video games, I hear: “Yes, I managed to beat my boss. And that’s not something that happens every day.”

– Yes, yes, it’s a very good feeling [laughs].

– Earlier you mentioned the expression “well-designed game”. Obviously, as in all walks of life, there are good and bad games. What do you think is the key to the success of a serious game ?

– That is a good question. In fact, I think that a good part of the training sector has moved in the wrong direction. I think that for a game to be really engaging and educationally relevant, it has to be challenging. I have seen many games created in corporate environments that are excessively easy; in fact, they’re so easy that they’re not really a game at all.

If you look at entertainment games, you’ll see that they all start with a challenge. It is a challenge that can be overcome, it is not impossible, but it is not easy either. And the human being tends to try to overcome challenges. So when you release a game in a corporate environment, I think it has to be challenging enough to be engaging. The challenge of managing time, of negotiating, of doing whatever… If the video game gives the participants everything done, they won’t learn anything, they won’t process any information or face any problem.

– Another of the difficulties involved in designing a serious game is finding the difficult balance between fun and learning. In some of your articles you talk about the importance of keeping in mind that “learning comes first” ( learning first ) when designing a game.

– Yes that’s how it is. When we create a training game or serious game we do it in order to obtain some kind of training result. We have to develop a series of challenges, a series of information that help to learn through this process. So if the design is good and we think “learn first” and create training challenges, we will come up with in-game elements that fit those challenges later.

When designing or using a training kit, I think the debate and discussion at the end of it is also important. Studies clearly reveal that, to achieve maximum effectiveness in learning through video games, once it is over, time is necessary for reflection, for balance, for discussion. Questions such as “how would you do this in a real work situation?” should be asked. or “How would you transfer what you have learned to your daily work?”

Consequently, when well designed, games provide an excellent learning experience that is even better when this feedback is included which allows participants to understand what they have learned.

– I don’t want to put you in a compromise, but the question is obligatory: what are your favorite serious games ?

Well, the interest of the games lies precisely in their variety. There are all kinds of different games for different themes. For example, you at Gamelearn have several games, including Triskelion, which I think is great for learning and reflecting on productivity and the best way to manage time. I think it’s a very good way to approach this topic.

You also have your game on negotiation, Shipowners. I find it a demanding and really good game. Negotiations are always tough and difficult to bring to a good conclusion, and this game brings a very interesting perspective on gamification.

From my point of view, the interesting thing about the games is that they are so varied that first you have to think about what you want to teach and then choose the serious game that best suits that specific type of training.

– What would you recommend to companies that are planning to implement a game-based learning program , but still have doubts or are not sure if it will work?

– Sometimes they tell me: “In our company we are very serious, we don’t want to use games”. However, in the security and defense sector, one of the most serious things facing humanity, we see that the United States military has been using war games for centuries. And there it is practically a matter of life and death. Medical serious games , for example, make up a sector in immense expansion. So the first thing I would say would be: “No matter what it is, it can’t be too serious for game-based learning or gamification.”

The second thing I would say is, “Pilot it.” Managers often come to me and say: “Karl, we can’t use games, we are too serious, my workers would never choose them…”. But then you talk to the people in charge of executing the work in question and they love it. They say: “My goodness, it is such a good way to learn, the game gives me so much knowledge…”. So I would say to them, “Do a pilot test with the people who are actually doing that job and need that kind of training.” I think that would help them and open their eyes.

And finally, I understand that the games should be part of a broader training program. You can’t just create a game and learn from it. A more extensive program on the subject in question is needed in which to integrate the game. The monitoring part, a role-playing game, etc., can all be part of that program. But I would advise: do not think of the game as a one-off event, because it should be part of a broader program that seeks behavior change.

– There is no doubt that there is a growing interest in gamification and game-based learning around the world. How do you see the situation of the sector today?

– Five, six or even seven years ago, when I was talking about game-based learning , many asked themselves: “Is it effective? Will it really work? I’m not sure”. But over the years, they have come to ask me: “Why is game-based learning so effective ?” And now the question is: “How can learning through video games be implemented effectively?”.

Well, don’t get me wrong: many people are still skeptical and don’t understand its scope, but now they are in the minority. Most of the people I talk to say: “We need to motivate our students, we know we want to use some kind of game or gamification, but we are not sure how to implement it. We do not know what would be the best method to guarantee the learning results we are looking for”.

Many educators, organizations or peers in the learning and development industry have not grown up with game-based learning . For them it is a completely new experience and they do not know very well how to create a training environment with learning games, how to balance, how to translate the game content into the desired training results. So I think it’s really necessary to help them understand how to implement the games properly to ensure that they get the desired formative result.

– And for the future? What do you think will be the evolution of game-based learning over the next five to ten years?

– Right now there is a huge movement towards virtual reality. So I anticipate that some games are going to be heading towards a virtual reality stage.

I also see how more and more games are used to elaborate many more types of unconventional alternative reflections. For example: a game that shows the company’s corporate strategy and indicates the position of competitors… Employees participate in the game and determine unique or different strategies. Participants would be taking notes and checking whether such strategies could actually be implemented later. So there are also games that are used pretty much to test ideas about where the company should go in the future; From my point of view, it is a very interesting vision of games.

And the other predominant trend is a kind of transmedia storytelling. For example, imagine a game, like Navieros, where some of the characters help the user in the negotiation. Once the game is over, the participant could receive a message on their phone from one of those characters telling them: “Hey, remember: there are a couple of things you have to think about in relation to the negotiation.” I see that games are expanding beyond their four walls to interact with people. Characters can become mentors outside of the game, with reminders and information, taking what they have learned in the course of the game to an environment outside of the game itself.

– You recently published your latest book, Play to Learn. What can we find in it?

– For the book I have had Sharon Boller. She and I run a workshop where we help students create their own educational games. We created this workshop for several reasons. First of all, many people came to us to say: “Yes, it’s true, I need a training game, I have this idea and I would like to have it by Friday…” [laughs] So I said: “Wait a minute. That does not work like that”.

One of the reasons we organized the workshop and wrote the book was to show that creating a learning game is a complex process indeed. It is not enough to snap your fingers to have a formative game. So we created a nine-step process that illustrates how to create a formative game. The book explains to everyone who wants to know what this process consists of from beginning to end. We talk about the participation in games and training games so that you understand how they work.

Therefore, the goal of the book is for readers to understand what it takes to create an educational game and why the process is so complex and time consuming. Sometimes I hear: “But it is much easier to create educational games than entertainment games.” Nothing of that! It is exactly the other way around. With entertainment games it is not necessary to worry about the educational aspects, about whether someone learns with them. On the other hand, in a training game you have to take care of both aspects: that it motivates the participants and that they learn.

– Listening to you talk, it is easy to perceive your passion for video games. On a personal level, do you spend the day playing?

– Well, not everything I would like [laughs]. Right now I’m sucked into the Assassin’s Creed series. So I’m in the Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. I’m almost done with it, it’s so much fun. I also play the Uncharted series on the PlayStation, I love it.

And on my mobile I have a version of Civilization. It’s called Civilization Lite and it’s a great adaptation of a PC game to a mobile game. I think that mobile technology will also be a great asset for games and gamification in the future.

So yes, I really like games. I’m also working on creating a couple of card games. I like new games, but also old school ones.

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