I am a Game Inspired Educator. I believe that there are lessons to be learned from the ways the games, particularly video games, engage the player and set up feedback loops to encourage learning. This just scratches the surface of what game design can teach us about engaging our students. The problem is that with a full time job, teaching a night class, trying to write, and making time for family, tgere is not a lot of left over time to play games! So, I find myself listening to a lot of game-based podcasts. One of my favorites is “Achievement Oriented” by Ben Lindbergh and Jason Concepcion on The Ringer Podcast Network. The hosts discuss their reactions to current video games, focus on mechanics they particularly find interesting, and weigh in in conflicts of the day. It keeps,me in the loop on the issues and schema that a modern gamer in my class would be familiar with. 

In the latest episode, linked above, they discussed “safe mode” in a modern Survival-Horror game called Soma. It made me think about limiting grade-based punishments to promote some risks. I think it was Jason that was afraid of this genre but took a chance on engaging with the game because of safe mode. 

In another episode they discussed a listener question asking if would not play the new Call of Duty game because their was a badge that was too difficult to realistically obtain. Neither of the hosts said that they were “Trophy Hunters” and had never really been motivated by earning a trophy in a game. It made me immediately think of gamification in education is overly focused on Badges. Sure some students/players will be motivated by badges/trophies but it is by no means a silver bullet and should not be thought of as such. Ben and Jason then went on to discuss the story, immersiveness, and mechanics the liked or thought were missing.

I think what has been most interesting to me lately though is the ongoing conversation about Loot Boxes and MicroTransactions in the new Star Wars Battlefront II. Part of the reason is because my sons would LOVE to get this game. The other, though, is that I am really interested in idea of in game currencies. I have been working on a gold system in my class and have recently been talking with students about how to reward achievements. From what I can gather, Loot Boxes are the modern version of a Treasure Chest. When a player completes a mission they get one of these boxes that has some combination of items and in game currency. The player can use the in game currency in a process called MicroTransactions to purchase new items, powers, and, in the case of Battlefront II, new characters.

The controversy is around these MicroTransactions. Players that don’t want to wait for in game achievements can use real world currency to purchase loot boxes or sometimes straight in game currency. Apparently, in the original release of Battlefront II Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader each cost 40,000 credits. Without context this has no meaning but an early player found that it would take roughly 40 hours of gameplay to earn 40,000 credits! Potential players were outraged and EA Sports (the publisher) was forced to reduce the cost by 75%! 

Now, obviously, there is no real world currency exchanging hands in my classroom; however, students are spending something far more valuable – their time. This discussion on Loot Boxes and MicroTransactions made me think much more deeply about what rewards I give and for what classroom interactions. It also got me thinking about what items are most valued by the students and which are most important for the gameplay. Obviously Luke and Vader are the most valuable characters in the Star Wars universe, but they are also the characters most important to keeping the players engaged. Just because it is most valuable doesn’t mean players should be exploited in the transaction.

I would encourage you all to listen to some people talk about their gaming experience. It doesnt need to be a podcast with experiemced gamers but listen to the reasons people are engaged with their games. Ask someone why the like Settlers of Catan so much or why they enter Bridge tournaments. Ask your dad why they play Words with Friends, Candy Crush, or do the NY Times Crossword puzzle. The specifics might differ, but the mechanics used to engage internal motivations are generally applicable.

Now that I think about it, do check out Achievement Oriented.