The different cultural approaches to playing games were part of the lively discussions we had in the partner consortium of 'Learning Games', especially about the motivation to play. The question, whether playing must imply competing or not came up frequently in the partner meetings.

To explore this position further Manuel Moura proposed a version of the popular television game "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" using questions related to his teaching at the Senior University of Braga, for example the understanding of the basic elements of security in the use of computers. At the same time the structure of rewards was maintained. 
The position of some of the participants in the project was, that education should not be competitive and therefore games used for learning, should not be either. Manuel relates the educational character to basic social, cultural, national or regional characteristics. He argues that, in fact, the playing of games that are not designed specifically for learning purposes represent an informal input to the educational process which, in his view, is particularly important in adult education. To dismiss the discussion about the strategies to win a football match in popular culture means neglecting elements one can use to construct useful learning games in adult education.
Manuel Moura participated in some of the workshops organized by W-Point in which methods of (learning) games where used (Pimp my Europe, Literacy Games). He is a co-founder of communal initiatives (Solidary Economy, Senior Universities) coming to light during and after the economic crises of Portugal. During our partner meeting in Braga, Portugal, Manuel and his co-operative ECG organised a public conference for disseminating the idea of learning games in adult education linking different institutions interested in this topic in Portugal.

Games in the socio-cultural context

  • Learning games are defined by the context
  • Games for learning are something specific (specific mission, specific organisation ...)
  • Learning games are an important educational activity
  • Rewards could be extra motivation, recognition but depend on the country.

What did we learn during the project ‘Learning Games’? What was the process, what were the goals? How can we motivate people to 'play a game'? How can we convince people to leave their comfort zone and enter the dark tunnel into the unknown world of a game? When motivating a group, the 'herd' effect can give a helping hand, as well as having prior knowledge about the game itself and its associated rules. But what, if the prize, the reward and gain are not sufficiently appealing? Will players take the initiative to volunteer or will they have to be engaged to play?

After conducting the research and using the games proposed by the ‘Learning Games' consortium, I can conclude that there are differences between 'the truth of what a learning game is' from a person belonging to one social structure or group in one context to another person from a similar social structure or group playing the same game in another context. The rewards given can work very well in one country, for example in Portugal, but can be a source of unbalance, friction and even obstruction for a learning process when carried out in another country.

Let me consider the case of the game developed and presented during the project 'Learning Games' based on the television program 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?'. In Portugal, it is a common perception that the most 'important thing' is to come first! To win! In many scenarios regardless of what happens to the other players. It is even important that the person coming second is a good distance from the first place, denoting an unquestionable superiority for the champion. In Portugal, it is even acceptable, for the potential champion, to use some less orthodox tricks with the justification, that the supreme goal for absolute victory is driving this behaviour.

This behaviour, from what I have been able to realize in conversation with colleagues from other countries, would not be acceptable to players of the same game, e.g. in Denmark, as it would denote an obvious lack of team and the absence of the expected positive and community-minded interaction. In Denmark, the main leitmotiv for any game - especially when applied in the didactic field in that country, is about fairness and community, not a win-at-all-costs attitude.

We can therefore conclude that the motivational elements that represent prizes and rewards for educational games can be very different from country to country, from community to community or even between individuals.

Consider the four elements always present in any game:

  • Players
  • Rules
  • Strategies
  • Expected payoffs or outcomes

For the proper structuring of a game and with regard to the expected payoffs or outcomes, it is essential to take into consideration that:

  1. The game, regardless of its final outcome, should always guarantee players the possibility of perceiving/obtaining their interim goals, allowing them to fulfill certain steps that will guide them towards the final goal (receiving payoffs or even recognition or awards for achieving partial steps). In a way, the ultimate goal (on its own) actually does not exist, since it is also a partial component of a chain that will drive the player in one form or another.
  2. Earnings, rewards, prizes, medals, awards, certificates, diplomas, greetings, etc. (call them what you want) are different elements of the same group of motivators that we must use to trigger an effect in the player, that is, mainly, the desire to play that game!

Is Football a game for the classroom?

Of course, the objectives, the rules of any game that we present and implement must be:

  • Concrete
  • Ambitious
  • Realistic
  • Assumed within a defined time or period

But the rewards will certainly play a role in the motivation to play.
There is no doubt that organized play is an important educational activity but, at the same time, we have to consider the informal aspects of the learning game process. In fact, they are already an integral and effective part of modern educational activity, and particularly in adult education. Even when we are not playing physically with a ball within the participative learning activity, we informally design elaborate theoretical scenarios about the strategies or tactics to be followed by our favourite football club in order to win the next match. Such attitudes, passion, communication, abstraction, humour, have to be considered when thinking in the reward to offer.