I took up distance running around my 30th birthday and quickly learned that running can be a difficult and monotonous task. It is definitely hard work and many times mid-run I found myself questioning my leisure activity. People deal with this challenge in different ways. Many like to listen to music while they run but I find that just as boring. Others enter into a zen like trance. I had a habit of listening to podcasts and lecture series (yeah, I’m that nerdy history teacher). Now I enjoy this but most of my students would find it torturous and this post isn’t about my favorite pods (I’m looking at you political gabfest). No, one day when none of my favorites were updated I stumbled upon an app called Zombies Run! 

This app blends a narrative and other game mechanics to transform the dull hard work of running into a more engaging and exciting experience. You, the runner, are “runner 5” stranded in a fortified outpost during a zombie apocalypse. Each run begins with a short warm-up introduction explaining your mission and pulling you further into the game world. You are rewarded for continuing the run with access to new pieces of the story every 3-5 minutes. Along the way, runners collect gameworld items used in the post run ‘town’ mini game. You even have to outrun zombies from time to time. The first time that happened I actually reflectively looked behind me! I guess this is auditory augmented reality.  The point of this is that the Zombies, Run! group has managed to use game mechanics to improve the otherwise dull hard work of running. 

The current ed reform environment believes that using technology can reinvent classroom by moving basic content knowledge acquisition from the focus of in class activities to one that takes place outide of the classroom (in Flipped Models) or as a side station (Blended Learning models). The problem with this is that taking notes on digital content is dull, monotonous, hard work. Students that won’t do this work when the teachers is directing or at least monitoring certainly won’t do this when it is pushed into the students’ own time. Zombies, Run! and game inspired design can potentially offer solutions to this problem.

This semester I have developed a game narrative called ‘The History Underground’. I’ve taken my lectures and boiled them down to their essential themes. I’ve broken these down further into short 1-2 minute chunks centered on very clear topic. When combined the lectures are no more than 20 minutes long. The narrative is built into this structure with a short introduction and storyline updates every few segments. Students are ‘collector 10’ working with ‘Zed’ (played with awesome voice acting skill by myself) to tap into secret archives in a post-apocalyptic America controlled by a pseudo-dictatorship group callled ‘APOC’ – the Armed Protectors of the Constitution. Wonder where the inspiration for this story came from? Hmm?

The narrative and gamified structure has engaged more students and certainly improved completion rates, but I also know that not every student (game player) is motivated by the same game mechanic so I’ve also included leaderboards, badges, rewards, and a real world puzzle challenge (pics to come) to the Flipped Game. But more on this in another post.