Gamification of reading

How playing minecraft could help children read better

I came across an article in the Wired magazine on the reading levels falling below their grade-levels. It was shocking to see that one student in grade 11 was struggling to read at grade 6 level, but there was an interesting find - When students had to go read about something they enjoyed, they were reading at levels far above expected. I think there’s something important to be taken from this: Reading fosters the creativity and imagination, and challenging students to read above their grade level can have very positive consequences. Constance Steinkuehler studies how cognition and learning are influenced by commercial entertainment games and the impact that games or simulations have on user. She conduced some research into the social-impact of a very popular game: Minecraft.

Gamification can be defined as follows:

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems1

A great outlet mentioned in the Wired article, and subject of Dr. Steinkuehler’s research was Minecraft. This game comes with little to no instructions, and the players interested in it have to go figure out for themselves reading through instruction manuals, wikis and other tips/tricks. If we evaluate some of those sources using the Flesch-Kincaid Reading scale, we can obtain a corresponding grade-level for the reading-piece being analyzed. Using this scale, some of the wikis are written at grade 8-11 levels and they are being read by young gamers in late-elementary and beginning middle school! Some of the popular instruction manuals such as The Ultimate Players Guide to Minecraft are written at grade 10-12 levels.

The readers reading them are often far younger than the level they are written at, sometimes they even contain academic-journal jargon. Seemingly this poses no problems to the young and enthusiastic gamers. What’s absolutely incredible is that not only are there game-guides there also exists plethora of fan-fiction writings which are also very sophisticated. I started to ponder about what would be motivating these young readers to go out and seek this material? A tweet from Chris Dixon explains this very well:

The same strategy that makes a game to viral or delightful also applies to the content generated to support the games, in our case the reading materials. This in a sense allows for some level of gamification of reading, the players enthusiastic about the game want to learn how to play better, and to enjoy that delightful experience, they have to read about the advanced features on wikis or other books. This is a very powerful combination of features where the gamers are already engaged and enthralled with the game. The books only support to fuel their joy and they would read it, even if it’s a difficult read, they have the right type of motivation to get through it. This might be able to foster a new kind of growth in reading abilities among the well-established gamer communities based around what they love and a fundamental change in the types of supplementary reading or leisure reading. A redesign based on authors writing fiction works based around games that are also very rich in literary elements that say one would find in the Moby Dick.

And it’s not just Minecraft, so many games have a vast multiplayer community that might also be interested in similar fictional writings based in a setting that they are very familiar with which they would enjoy reading about. The familiarity of setting is a key contributor, when started a new book we often have to ourselves into the setting that the author has set up for us but game-based writings don’t suffer from that. The readers already know all about the world that the story is being set into, they’ve played with it and experienced it first-hand along with all its joys and set-backs. The emotional connection that the author can develop using that media and the effectiveness of the message being passed across might be deeper than traditional books. We are just beginning to scratch the surface as Microsoft purchased Minecraft, they might have similar plans, but only time will tell.

This is the lesson John Dewey tried to get across:

To get kids reading and writing, give them a real-world task they care about.

  1. Taken from Wikipedia