Agency Makes All the Difference

In business and in education, teaching methods have come a long way in the last few decades. Rather than reading through large texts or manuals, employees and students can watch video tutorials to learn something new. Lectures or long meetings have made way for group activities or projects.

Most recently, some companies and schools have even been turning to videogames as a way of teaching information to employees and students. But why videogames, which have traditionally been used for entertainment? What do games have to offer that more “practical” tools don’t?

The short answer: Agency

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Psychology defines “agency” as, simply put, having the capacity to act. Sometimes “agency” is used instead of terms like “power” or “control,” but in our case we’ll be using agency because it is both broader in meaning and more specific in scope.

Player agency in gaming is something that is talked about in the industry, but often assumed to be present. After all, is it possible to have a game where a player has no choice? While that question does warrant discussion, it’s better saved for a different post.

Instead, to understand how agency can impact the world of learning in education and in business, we need to ask: what is the role of agency in a game? And why is agency important?

In a gaming setting, agency means providing the opportunity for a player or participant to act, whether that be through a conversation, an object interaction, or even something as small as a movement from one place to another.

Agency turns what would otherwise be a story, basic or complex, into an interactable environment where a player can make choices that affect the world in which that game takes place…and because agency itself encompasses all ability to act, it can be both unintentional and intentional.

Unintentional agency happens in most games in some fashion, with some games relying heavily on it – if you’re playing a visual novel game, for example, you have no choice but to select dialogue that is already written in the context of the game. You can’t create your own story with what is given to you.

Intentional agency, on the other hand, is all about the player making active choices. Even in roleplaying games like The Legend of Zelda, a player could theoretically make the game all about smashing pots rather than saving Princess Zelda. The game, while scripted, relies heavily on intentional agency.

Now, what does this have to do with business and education? How can agency impact learning in these environments in a way that other tools can’t?

By using agency in learning strategies, you enable your learners to make choices that help to reinforce good behaviors and knowledge about a given topic. Unintentional agency allows you to structure your activities so you can set objectives and parameters for the learning, and intentional agency invests your employees and/or students in their learning experience by giving them choices.

In order for learning to be effective, agency must play a role – and a game cannot exist without some form of agency. For learning to become most effective, it’s essential to understand which form of agency is best suited to your purposes.

If your organization wants to learn more about how to integrate agency into your learning strategies through game-based learning, contact us for a free consultation.