I may be showing my age, but my early high school years were spent playing Sid Meiers’ Civilization II. This classic was a turn based game where the player became the leader of an early civilization and guided it from the eariliest moments of humanity through a futuristic era (the year 2020!). The major obstacles in the development of the civilization are resource management and the opposing players. At the beginning of the game the computer generated a random world map. There was some customization possible – the player could choose a young or old Earth which altered the rockiness of the soil or the amount of available land mass for example – but the challenge lay in the competition for scarce resources. This is where Sid Meier’s genius emerged. The game is a masterpiece of interconnected gameplay mechanics and experiences.

First, the player is able to select from a variety of civilizations with different abilities and advantages. An interconnected game mechanic is that the player guides the civilization through a technolgy tree which unlocks new character units, buildings, and weapons. The civilization that is selected impacts the gameplay due to inherent advantages. One group might be able to develop the trireme more quickly and thus start ocean travel faster, another group might be able to increase its population at a higher rate while still another would have access to writing and literacy at the Star of the game. The game was incredibly replayable. The players initial civilization choice was important as was the choices made while advancing through the technology tree and the logistical choices of creating new cities and buildings. While all of this resource management was taking place the A.I. was ‘playing’ several other civilizations that were competing for the same scarce resources!

The ‘win-stakes’ are also important. The player could chose to ‘win’ the game in several different ways. The first was by conquering the rest of the civilizations. This was the bloody military conquest route. Certain governments worked well for this while others did not. I remember trying to develop ‘Communism’ quickly because I could become a dictator and wage perpetual war while keeping my masses in line… Republican Democracy was terrible because the people complained their sons were being sent off to fight… I realized that politics was not my likely career choice… Anyways, the second route to total victory was by developing a Space Program that could send a rocket to Alpha Centauri. This was a hard task for young Mr. Powley that required forthought, boring negotiation and a peaceful coexistence among the various civilizations. It was also limited by the 2020 time limit. The third way was just to play out until 2020 and have a high score.

Instead of being ‘evidence of a misspent youth’ (and there were many evening/nights that slipped away) Civ II has had quite an impact on my career! The reasons the game was so engaging were 1) the amount of choice and customization available in the game play and 2) the different paths to victory! Let’s take these two ideas and how they apply to the classroom.

1) Student Choice – when I began my gamification journey, In fact before I knew it was called gamification, I was seeking ways to decrease the amount of lecture and replace it with small activities. I was thinking of games like Civilization II in my planning as I set up a ‘buffet-style’ menu of options. I still remember almost 5 years ago setting up my Unit 6 on the 1920s with around 8 different categories (2 for each sub-standard) labeled A- H. Each category had a theme and each theme had at least 2 different activities (some had more). Some where short recorded lectures, some where primary source activities, some were creative writing. To get a 100% for the unit the student had to successfully complete at least one activity in each category. This was before I had figured out XP grading and it was an awkward fit in my category weighting grade scheme, but it was so popular that the students begged my to do Unit 7 the same way. The most interesting part was that the completion rates were higher, the quality of work was better, and the class was so engaged that there were no disciplinary issues! Just like Civiliaztion II allowed the player choice and customization the meaningful student choice made the classroom more engaging. This is an element that I try to work into all of my classroom activities now. I will highlight the nuts and bolts of my XP grading system in a future post, but giving students multiple ways to demonstrate their knowledge and skills is essential to a game inspired classroom.

2) Many Paths to Victory – this is related to the student choice in that different players want to complete the goals of the game in different ways. I was never good at completing Alpha Centauri mission, but I knew how to lead the hordes into battle. Some students are born test takers and they will be able to pass most courses simply by focusing on exams. Others students will be able to have great conversations and be able to recall facts or state a clear oral argument on the spot. Still others can artfully arrange a visual representation on a key concept. Traditionally, school values the needs of the test taker type or the student that is able to complete the homework without getting into disciplinary trouble. This is a choice schools make. Wouldn’t it be better if we made the conscious decision to value the many ways that students can demonstrate their skills! Again, XP grading provides an avenue for this (more soon) by allowing students to pick a strategy for success that suited their strengths. 

Remember the lessons of Sid Meiers and allow students meaningful choices and many paths to victory!