MINDFOOD II: Top 5 Cursed Problems in School

October 8, 2022
We examine the challenges between the (un)obtainable goals of schools.

Welcome to our latest podcast series: MINDFOOD, easily digestible content for education.

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Top 5 Cursed Problems in School

Hello and welcome to Mindfood: a series of more casual content that's easily digestible.

This episode is brought to you by Brad Latzke, Michelle Edwards, and Ann Trapasso

So what do I mean by Cursed Problems? Well…

In 2019, Alex Jaffe gave a talk at GDC (that’s the Game Developers Conference) called “Cursed Problems in Game Design”. Since the video was released in 2020 it has gotten over 600,000 views on YouTube. In the video he says that a game’s essential experiences, why the player came to play, are the player promises. These promises exist both in the heart of the designer and the player: they are the reason a game exists, it’s what we care about at a fundamental level.

A cursed problem, then, is not merely a problem that is difficult to resolve, but is instead an unsolvable design problem, rooted in a conflict between core player promises. The promise of two things that cannot co-exist. The premises of the promises are fundamentally incompatible, they are in violation of one another. Oil and water. You cannot solve cursed problems, rather you have to innovate around them.

The analogy to schools and schooling and the appeal of this discussion to us is if you replace player with student and game with school, it doesn’t take much to realize that many of the promises of school are incompatible with one another, both in the minds of the designers - who often have specific objectives in mind - and in the student experience of the systems and mechanics of school. We thought today that we’d try to unpack the cursed problems of school, the promises of school in the minds of students and educators, the difference in the experience and objectives of school, and analyze what the potential solutions to these cursed problems sacrifice along the way.

These are the central conflicts of schooling!


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