I’ve been playing with the TaleBlazer software and trying to design my own simple game. The basic format is that the student has to search in the real world area marked on the game map representing my school building for a password. Once the password is located it unlocks the ‘mysterious figure’ that asks a question. In some locations the password will also have another clue or a cipher, but the student will either get the question correct and then recieve the location of the next password clue or get the question incorrect and have to return to my room for remediation on the content before repeating the question. 

I realized that although the set up of the game is that a possible ghost is leading thenstuswnts on a goose chase, that they were likely to fail and failing is just not something that people handle very well. I see this in my two young sons (7 & 4) that are attempting to play games that are a bit more advanced (like Star Wars BattleFront) than they had previously taken on (Disney Infinity). As they play Battlefront I notice that there are more tears and frustration and I have a theory that it is not only that the game i harder but that the failure is more realistic. In player v player mode the winning player actually gets a victory cut scene to gloat. Even during the game when a dying player’s vision goes red and then collapses before they respawn. There is no fun in the failure. In contrast my sons love to falling into the Sarlacc Pit (for you non-nerds – a hole in the sand where a worm digests the victim for a thousand years) in the Disney Infinity’s Star Wars game because it leads to a quick respawn that allows them to see the Sarlacc burp and then throw up little chunks of their previous avatar. The Disney Infinity is full of these fun little failure states. With the Infinity there are way less tears and threats to throw controllers (we’re working on handling this). Its not just kids… From one gamer to another we have all gone through this. 

As I was working through with the TaleBlazer coding I began thinking about how to create little fun failure states. Instead of thinking of the failure as a challenge to engagement (throughing the phone and quitting) I began to see it as an opportunity to make my students laugh and  potentially even seek out the failure state. Not in a sense that I wanted them to fail but because the questions might be beyond what we had studied in class to point I did not want them to avoid the loss.

I took inspiration from quizizz.com. In a quizizz game when the player misses a question a funny little meme pops up. The TaleBlazeebapp allows a similar function. When a student misses a question a new ‘agent’ pops up and when they click on it I have programmed a funny little picture with a good natured eye roll comment (really…?). I also wanted students to watch a remediation video but know that a video of me lecturing will not be that fun. Instead I found a slew of historic parody videos from a Social Studies teacher Mr Betts (@MrBettsClass) that touch on the questions (MrBettsClass YouTube example). They are silly. Students will either laugh with them (like me), at them, or (my bet) pretend to like them ironically but actually think they are funny. My goal is to keep them engaged with an activity that is just slightly further than what they are comfortable with but not punish there academic risk taking. Instead a fun failure state will reward the risk and encourage them to take further (appropriate) risks. 

This is leading me down a path to consider other areas where academic risks are punished rather than rewarded and to consider ways to think of fun failure states. It is part of the reason I have developed to ‘Heart Based Late System‘. I need to think about this more and think it might be a way to move good students to great but also apathetic students to at least engaged.