Using Desire and Skill to Nurture Joy in Learning

Open source culture uses both desire and skill to invent based on two things: need and enjoyment. Many open source projects stem from a simple need to get a particular task accomplished – or to solve a particular problem. Others come simply from a desire for entertainment, enjoyment, and play. For Linux founder Linus Torvalds, “the computer itself is entertainment”; regardless of the current project he is working on, there is always time to play with the computer and discover something new – perhaps even begin “some programming experiments that do not have immediate goals” (Himanen 2002, pp. 20, 32). In other words, Torvalds composes out of joy and entertainment for the medium itself. This is the type of enthusiasm that we can and should harness for an Open Source Composition Space.

The open source community has discovered that when it comes to invention, motivation, and execution, “joy is an asset” (Raymond 1999, p. 60). This is something that the gaming community has figured out as well. Serious gaming, “a new field of computer and video games, applied to non-entertainment purposes,” has been harnessing the power of joy-based learning since the early 2000s (Serious Games Initiative n.d.). Games encourage learning – and invention – by stimulating the imagination, providing new avenues for creativity, and establishing new methods of problem-solving and critical thinking (Gee 2007). Gaming also helps us achieve those two very important parts of the open invention process: it builds both skill and desire. The beauty of games is that when immersed in the joy of gaming, students often don’t even realize that they’re learning. Thus is the key to open invention: Utilizing this inherent joy found in activities such as serious gaming as a means of discovering and developing skill and desire.

Games teach a new way of building knowledge: through problem-solving, critical thinking, and imagination. “It’s not what you’re thinking about when you’re playing a game, it’s the way you’re thinking that matters” (Johnson 2005, p. 81). Johnson links this to why and how we teach algebra. We know that most students will never use it again, but we teach them anyway: “Learning algebra isn’t about acquiring a specific tool; it’s about building up a mental muscle that will come in handy elsewhere” (Johnson 2005, p. 81). Thus, when playing games, students can learn valuable skills in imagination, narrative development, decision making, constructing order amidst chaos, and exploration as a means of discovery (Johnson 2005, pp. 85-88). Video games have a way of forcing players to consider their environments, and use their own skill sets and desires (whether based on reward or merely in pursuit of fun) to advance and succeed.

When a student practices something in a game environment, they become better at it, developing a skill set that can be transferred into the "real" world (Gee 2007). This is no small point of discussion, as “the average young person today in a culture with a strong gamer culture will have spent 10,000 hours playing online games by the age of 21” (TED, 2012). One interesting point about this – as McGonigal points out in her research – is that this 10,000 hours number is precisely the amount of hours that author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, discovered to be the "magic number" of hours it requires to master any one skill (TED, 2012). As it relates to the composition space, it’s also interesting to think about which of the skills learned during those 10,000 hours might be applicable to our educational goals. Theoretically, during those 10,000 hours, these young gamers will have learned skills in critical thinking, problem solving, and initiating creativity: all talents that are incredibly relevant and useful for the invention process. The only issue with these statistics is that we can’t assume that these skills will automatically transfer over into the writing process, nor can we assume that we will be teaching a class full of gamers. What we can do is try and identify which of our students are gamers (such as through the class survey I mentioned) and then assess how those students can use their skills as a way of inspiring and helping other students in their writing groups and in their classrooms as a whole. Furthermore, we can take some lessons learned from the serious games community and apply them to open invention.

What’s unique about using serious games as a means for invention is its delivery method. Games are interactive and often non-linear in their approach to narrative. “Playing is integral, not coincidental like the appreciative reader or listener. The creative involvement is a necessary ingredient in the uses of games” (Aarseth, qtd. in Moulthrop 2005, p. 210). That inherent creativity that stems from learning through play – through joy – is what drives both desire and need in the open invention process: to invent, inspire, brainstorm, and compose.

The critical thinking gained through gaming is necessary to the open invention process as well. When we invent, we try to sift through which ideas are "good" or "bad," which may be most worthy of pursuit in a full-length composition. The practice that gaming provides with regard to critical thinking can help ease this process: not out of judgment, which I see as inherently negative, but instead from a place of thoughtful critical thinking that comes from a place of joy: that which we see in gaming.

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