Game-based learning is “Gamification’s” cousin from around the bend. Sure, they are mighty similar and come from the same family, but each are drastically different; where one, Gamification, takes the non-gaming and turns it into a game, the other, Game-based learning, centers around pre-made games meant to explicitly function as games. Sometimes, the two don’t get along but mostly, they co-exist as equals.

Greg Toppo’s book here is focused wholly on Game-Based Learning. As the subtitle suggests, he is intently focused on how digital devices (computer and console games, arcade games, experimental games, etc.) can improve society, particularly youth. Throughout the chapters readers encounter a different investigation of an aspects about video games, from the controversies surrounding video games (such as the many bogus studies on “violence”) to the medicinal properties of video games, Toppo convincingly presents evidence for how and why video games should be re-examined as an educational and medical substance.

That being said, there are times where Toppo’s investment in game-based learning, his investigation as a journalist, seem to give gamification the short end of the stick. All though he never goes as far as to condemn gamification, several instances throughout the book, Toppo insinuates that gamification is a kind of vulgar Pavlovianism; if one reads the book symptomatically, it is easy to see that Toppo feels that gamification, at best, doesn’t hold up to game-based learning, while gamification relies too heavily on some sort of classical conditioning (something which is simply not true).

As an additional point of concern, while reading, I was struck by Toppo’s liberal conservatism. While each chapter brings a new chance to unearth radical pedagogy, the reader is left wanting only for Toppo to instead wax eloquently on the Obama administration or the U.S military or business interests. To say that the journalism here is clearly in the interests of corporate and medical elitists is not an understatement; furthermore, I feel that the conservatism is why Toppo favors game-based learning over gamification; whereas gamification allows students and educators of all classes and fields the ability to determine course objectives without being spied on by big brother (if they eschew virtual components, which many do), game-based learning, on the other hand, with its reliance on corporate sponsors to fund the hardware and software, is firmly in the pockets of intelligence agencies.

Perhaps this is over-reaching. Whether it is or is not, however, I feel it is an undeniable aspect of the book. What is also an undeniable aspect of the book, whatever said book’s weaknesses are, is the intriguing insights proffered by Toppo’s investigation. I had been expecting the usual lines about video game violence studies to be taken down a notch, what I did not expect, though, was for the exploration to probe ways in which video games could actually be used for treating Depression and ADHD.

The later chapters on how video games give kids something they lack, and how violence can be used as feedback within the “ludic loop,” were fascinating to read. Certainly, these are elements which I would be at a loss to forget when designing my own gamified coursework. At the minimum, such insights allowed me to think differently about video games even if the medical properties of video games are largely their own domain these days as a specific sub-set of games.

In all, I enjoyed The Game Believes in You. I will not claim that it is “foundational” reading for an educator (aspiring or otherwise), but I think that it is a powerful and relevant book nonetheless. For educators looking to gamify their classrooms, I feel this would be a nice supplementary read if they are interested in associating their classroom with digital game-based or gamified elements. For teachers, however, that are firmly interested in basing their whole coursework around digital games, this book is perhaps foundational. I supposed it depends from which pedagogical perspective you are sitting from and wish to explore.

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