More on Hard Fun: Idit Caperton on Seymour Papert, and Henry Jenkins in Conversation with Will Wright

NOTE: After something of a disheartening day at work, it was good to come home to these two articles tonight. “Hard Fun” may be the most important concept I’ve encountered yet in my educational technology research. Also, I hope now I can organize my next KAM around John Dewey, Maria Montessori and posibly Paulo Freire, since Caperton mentioned these three as influences of Paperts… in addition to Piaget of course. It turns out Will Wright went to a Montessori school up through the 6th grade!

Oh, Caperton spent much of her article quoting Papert, and I guess I’ve primarily just passed those quotes on here… but boy are they worth passing on. And, boy would I like to be more playful in my own “thinking sessions.”

Editor Marieli Rowe wrote that Dr. Idit Caperton (2005) of MaMaMedia offered “a rare glimpse into the playful world of Seymour Papert” (p. 16). Early in the article, Caperton shared that “a ‘thinking serssion’ with Seymour Papert is always playful and often generates… fun out-of-the-box concepts” (p. 16). She also represented the story of how Papert came to love mathmatics (and then AI and then educational technology) through his love of gears as a child (p. 17). Touching on differentiated instruction, she recalled that Papert felt “the computer is the proteus of machines… because it can take on a thousand forms and can serve a thousand functions, it can appeal to a thousand tastes” (Papert, as quoted in Caperton, 2005, p. 17)

Half way through the article Caperton (2005) introduced Papert’s idea of “hard fun”, which he adopted after “hearing a young student apply it to a Logo-based school project… in the mid-’80s” (p. 18). This was followed by several examples of Papert”s “learning stories” (p. 18), which illustrate this concept. These she concluded with the thought reflection that

he strongly believes that these constructionist projects are like video games: they have holding power that can become ‘as much a part of the lives of young children as playing with toys and dolls, or other more passive construction kits.’ Moreover, Seymour says, ‘it is also plausible that if this were to happen, certain concepts and ways of thinking presently regarded as far beyond children’s ken would enter into what they know intuitively and figure out spontaneously’ (in the way kids figure out video game levels on the run, ink real time, or in the sense in which Piaget about children’s intuitive or spontaneous geometry or logic); ‘while other concepts – which children do leanr at school but reluctantly and not very well – would be learned with the gusto one sees in playing Nintendo games.’ (Papert, as quoted in Caperton, 2005 p. 18, parenthetical comments are Caperton’s)

Deeper implications of the “hard fun” idea are represented by other Papert quotes shared by Caperton:

– “The presence of computers begins to go beyond the firs impact when it alters the nature of the learning process: for example, if it shifts the balance between transfer of knowledge to students… and the production of knowledge by students” (p. 18)

– “Ask a few kids: the reason they don’t like school is not that the work is too hard, but that it is utterly boring.” (p. 19)

Caperton closed the article with an allusion to a conversation with Papert in which he lamented “the transformation of kid-friendly computer science into traditional computer use to support the same old rigid and outdated curricula and teaching methods” (p. 19). She felt that “there is … much to learn from the ways in which kids learn to play video games, create their own computer games, and figure out technology and gadgets on the fly” (p. 19) and she admired the way Papert “continues to stir radical rethinking and transformation of education through the constructionist uses of computer technology and programmable, internet-based media – both in our school systems and through the development of playful, self-directed learning communities at home, and in our national and global cultures.

The following article in the same issue of Telemedium was a transcription of the conversation between Henry Jenkins and Will Wright at the Education Arcade conference at E3 on May 11, 2004. They too discussed the importance of fun in games, education, and problem solving in general.

The article opens with Will Wright sharing something akin to the gears story and concluding that “the self-motivated part was far more effective than anything I ever got from any formal education” (p. 20). Later said, “it’s clear that our culture has disconnected play and education, when in fact they are really aspects of the same thing” (p. 21). Wright imagined a very different education for students, one in which a game might be marked up with links to web-based information with an option for students to annotate he information (p. 20). He pointed out though that “the best games will probably be very interdisciplinary” (p. 20), and that many new genres of games will one day “stretch our definition of education and learning” (p. 23). Wright concluded with a series of visionary questions followed by the suggestion that students are already living the education of the future when they get home from school because “what they do when they play online is an interesting mixture between entertainment and education” (p. 23).


Caperton, I. (2005) For Seymour Papert “hard fun” is the essence of good games AND good education. Telemedium: the journal of media literacy. 52 (1 & 2) 16-19. Madison, WI: National Telemedia Council.

Jenkins, H., Wright, W. (2005) “Buy these problems because they’re fun to solve!” Telemedium: the journal of media literacy. 52 (1 & 2) 16-19. Madison, WI: National Telemedia Council.