Goals Ludic and Otherwise

One of the key components in a structuralist view of games, as promoted by Suits, McGonigal and others, is that they contain goals. However it is important to differentiate between the goals that are inherent to the game and the goals of the player playing it. To keep things clear we will differentiate between the player goals and the goals of the game which will be refereed to as Ludic Goals.

When the Player goals and Ludic goals are in alignment the game will function as the designer intended. However interesting things start to happen when the two goal types start to clash. For example in the game of tic tac toe the Ludic goal is to place three of your symbol in a row before your opponent. The player goal for anyone who has played the game a bit shifts from the ludic goal to not allowing the opponent to win. This shift in game play style from playing to win to playing not to lose creates a solution to the game and in essence destroys it’s replay-ability (in that it becomes the dominant strategy).

There are two basic types of Ludic Goals, finite goals and infinite goals.

Both of them define the scope of the game and what the player is attempting to achieve. They both will give the conditions under which the game will come to an end. They differ in the length of time that they define for play. In finite games the goal can be reached (in fact reaching it is the point) whereas in infinite games the goal is to keep playing without activating the conditions which will bring the game to an end. So for example street fighter has a clear finite goal, to reach the final level and defeat the final boss whereas the goal for an infinite runner is to run as long as possible without triggering the fail conditions. The Ludic Goals for finite games can therefore be expressed as positive statements of things a player is trying to achieve. In contrast the Ludic Goals for infinite games can be expressed in what the player is trying not to let happen.

So why is this important for Education?

As we saw above it is possible to have multiple goal systems within a game structure and when these goal systems are not aligned the game play suffers or can even be destroyed. This is very common in the educational environment where the teacher or learning goals stand opposed to the student goals. For example in an information gap activity the learning goal may be to get the students to practice the targeted vocabulary in context, however if the students goal is to get through the activity as fast as possible the learning goal will be compromised.

The design of educational games can be improved dramatically by the careful alignment of Ludic and Player Goals. In addition teachers who are aware of the difference can more clearly guide students back to the learning goal of the activity or analyse why the student has defined a new goal and adapt activities to match.

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