Not all games are based solely on “easy fun”. In high school (ok, and in college) my group of friends dove into Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games. Thinking back on these games I don’t remember any of the feelings of wonder or exploration that is associated with Easy Fun. In RTS games, like Command and Conquer or Age of Empires, two or more teams are dropped onto a map and have to quickly gather resources and build a military base with the overlapping goals of defending their vase while building an attack force. The combination of time pressure, opportunity costs, resource management, and critical thinking left no room for feelings of awe or wonder! Before I discovered gamification and game design mechanics I often wondered why we spent so many nights fighting off the legions and platoons in these games. When I learned ago I “Hard Fun” the light bulb went off.
In Lazzaro’s description of Hard Fun, this type focussed on challenge, mastery, and a sense of accomplishment. I can see this mechanic,being engaged when my oldest son attempts to play chess against me, my youngest son tries to reach the next level in Subway Surfer, or my father in law solves another NY Times Sunday Crossword puzzle. For their skill levels these challenges are all appropriately tailored to their ‘flow‘ (not too frustrating but not too easy to be boring) and a sense of accomplishment can be achieved. The accomplishment need not be just winning the game; when my son takes my Knight he is just as excited as putting me in check. This feeling is one of my favorite gamification terms – Fiero (Italian word,for personal triumph). When I began gamifying I modified a spreadsheet gradebook and when I correctly applied a new code I literally through my hands in the air and shouted yes! into my empty classroom. That is Fiero and we all do it.
Game designers can add elements of Hard Fun by placing a focus on goals, constraints, and strategy. When Jane McGonigal brought up games as ‘voluntary efforts to overcome unnecessary obstacles’ she was talking about Hard Fun. As Lazzaro and others have pointed out is is the rules and constraints that allow the sense of accomplishment (Fiero) as well as the conditions that are necessary for creativity and critical thinking to emerge in students. There is a push in the modern ed reform discourse to enhance student choice – a movement that I am in favor of – but we should also be careful not to remove all goals and constraints in the process. It is in overcoming the obstacles, either the students limited skill set or the rules for the assignment placed by the teacher, that allows for creativity. It is the friction of student desires rubbing against the obstacles to thier progress that creates the fire of creativity.
School already has a lot of Hard Fun. Achievers and Player player types already have a lot of points (grades) and badges (A’s and Honor Role) that allow them to engage. Teachers though can think carefully about the goals, obstacles, points, and badges that they create to encourage a better form of Hard Fun. First, I would encourage a better grading system (for example my XP Grading) or an alternative economy (like what is found at explorelikeapirate.com). Also, think carefully about the badges that you give out; whether they tied to an important skill or accomplishment and if they badge is achieveable. We want to keep studemts in their unique “Flow State” while giving them chances to feel “Fiero”. If things get too challenging offer up some fun failure states. A fun fail state might be tied into your narrative (like the zombie horde overuns you and you need to fight your way out) or simply a funny meme if a question is wrong (see quizizz.com)
Not all fun in the classroom has to be easy goofing off. In fact we can better engage our Achievers and Players (from the Marczewski Hexad) through better designed goals, challenges, and PBL systems.