The educational arm of games consultancy Press Start Hong Kong, Press Start Academy is an after-school education concept where learning looks a little different — it all takes place through play and games. Founder and CEO Vince Siu explains how games can help kids, teens and adults learn and grow.
Press Start Academy was founded five years after gamification consultancy Press Start Hong Kong, which Siu had already been working on for a number of years. Before Press Start, Siu was working in innovation and strategy consulting, and before that he was in retail banking.
Siu grew up in a playful, imaginative environment and realized the impact teachers have on their students during a summer internship teaching middle schoolers. But it wasn’t until he started working on his own start-up that the idea for Press Start Academy began to take shape.
Traditionally, gamification is the use of game concepts in non-game contexts. This usually takes place in the form of points, leaderboards and badges, which are now quite commonplace in loyalty programs and many other contexts.
At Press Start Academy, we want to create deeper playful experiences to unlock the full potential of games as a platform for learning, innovation and inspiration. We study what makes games so enjoyable and compelling to so many people, and try to create learning environments that are just as enjoyable.
We’ve yet to come up with a snazzy term, so for now we call our approach gamification 2.0: build fun first, build everything else later.
On the game level, [what you can learn] is very much dependent on the game itself. From a thematic standpoint, you have games like Civilization, which is very much a historical simulation game that can easily “teach” you about civilizations, technologies and political systems throughout history; you have economic strategy games like Power Grid, which simulates the energy market and infuses basic supply/demand concepts into the gameplay. These are just two basic examples.
Of course, there’s also soft skills, which in analog game environments — playing board games with others — come to the fore even more. These are skills as fundamental and important as learning how to lose, to [more complicated skills like] resource management, diplomacy and negotiation, strategy, and much more.
The wider game-like environment is all about what playfulness can bring out in the participant. Here, the concept of creative flow is universal: if you are in an environment that is immersive, poses a level of difficulty that is challenging but not unreachable, and allows you to both use and develop your skills and passions, you are naturally compelled to dig deeper and spend more time [on the game].
Whether this means you’re spending more time building and fine-tuning your creations in Minecraft or obsessing over working out the perfect strategic balance between resource management and negotiation in Catan doesn’t matter per se, the nature of this environment does wonders for our personal development and growth.
And the best thing about it? We don’t even know we’re learning and growing. We’re just playing.
There’s still a lot of focus on playing games together as family time or downtime, so I’d challenge parents and educators to think about creating playful environments for your children and not necessarily treating play time as unproductive time.
If your child enjoys playing online games, what is it about the games that they enjoy? If they like telling stories or building with LEGOs, how can these skills be cultivated alongside their schoolwork? And more importantly, how can you yourself find fun, imagination and inspiration in your subject or environment that you can then transmit to your children and students?
We generally start with the skills we want to develop as a focus for a learning experience and pick the games as a secondary consideration. And if there aren’t existing games that we can use as-is or adapt and repurpose, then we just create our own!
I love using games that are not designed to be educational, because you know that they’re designed to be fun first. We just design everything else around it. In one of our Play and Write courses, King of Hong Kong, we repurpose a popular monster invasion board game by adding Hong Kong-specific elements to it, asking our students to create their own monsters and to role-play different characters in a breaking news story.
They love playing the game itself because it’s just a great game, but the program teaches creative writing and journalism. They take home their own class newspaper having learned how to write headlines, breaking news articles and even their own event calendar inspired by the world, characters and monsters they’ve created.
Learning through play is absolutely not limited to children and teens! All the concepts I talked about regarding gamification, game-like environments and playfulness are universal, and from what I’ve seen, this is as important for children as it is refreshing for adults.
Through our gamification consultancy work with Press Start Hong Kong, we’ve seen lots of success applying the same concepts to work environments, hence our service offerings in innovation, learning and development, recruitment, and employee engagement
I’m really excited to see how the gamification movement develops not just in Hong Kong, but worldwide. We’ve definitely had to spend time and effort evangelizing the power of games and continue to do so, especially in a culture that has long associated play with being unproductive. But any taster experiences speak for themselves and immediately open people’s minds to the immense potential of games. And when creativity, critical thinking and passion are becoming prized attributes in future generations, games are definitely the best platform to unlock it all — and we all know how much Hong Kong parents want to stay ahead of the game!
In terms of inserting play and games into the classroom outright, I think this will still be a slow adoption in Hong Kong schools. However, gamification is not just about games — it’s also about user-centric experience design, project-based learning and creating playful, compelling environments, and that’s most definitely on the rise and here to stay.
From our Hot Seat series.