Feedback Loops…


Fun Fail States…

And Four…

As in Four Year Old…

As in my Four year old son playing Snail Bob.

A few days ago I happened to stumble on my 4 year old playing a game on his Kindle Fire I had not seen before. I started watching because there was a constant stream of “hmm?” and “oh, man…” coming from his chair. (You have to imagine this with a little pouty face and four year old lisp).  But for as much as he was saying this he was engaged and I could see he was processing information then strategizing.

Watch this:

Ben plays Snail Bob
I love so much about this video bit my favorite part is the end when he looks at me and says “I did it!”

I am a game inspired teacher. I truly believe that the Free to Succeed (or you may call it Free to Fail) concept is vital to both good game and education design. This may be an unpopular statement, or even a bit of a Straw man, but the idea seems to have become so much of a buzzword concept that we have lost the real meaning and power behind it. 

My first gamification F word – Failure

Failure is neither good nor bad. It just is. Failure is a state that should be a step toward success and we need to be careful not to fetishize it. A small success on the path to a bigger victory is just as important as the failures along the way. (But that doesn’t get as many clicks when its in a headline.) Nobody high fives,their buddy when they get a pass intercepted playing Madden Football or when they frag their coop partner in Call of Duty.

When educators refer to the importance of failure they are not really talking about failure. No, what they are really talking about are the other gamification F-words.

Gamification F-word 2 – Feedback Loops 

If Free to Succeed (fail) ended with the failure it would be a pointless educational tool. Just telling students to get out there and not succeed were the sole educational planning that went into this that would be terrible advice. The point of the failure is to create a feedback loop that helps,train the player (or in our case student) how to complete the skill, mastery the mechanic, or learn the content. 

I once played an iPad baseball game where the pitcher would throw the ball and the player taps the screen to hit it. The problem was there was no feedback loop to let the player know if the timing of the swing was good, bad, or really bad. I played the game for a few innings and got so frustrated I gave up. 

Look at that picture of Benny playing Snail Bob and contrast it with the baseball game. The first thing I see is a big red button that says “don’t press this button”. Know what happens when you hit that? Insteat Snail Death. Know what Ben figured out? Hey, I’m stuck and can’t get out. I can hit that button to restart! 

Instant feedback loop! Button=death. The game also circles all the levels and buttons and most are reusable. The player can hit the buttons to see what they can do. When the player makes a mistake the game immediately lets them know. The snail falls down a pit or gets squished or floats away. Importantly, the player gets to restart immediately and can try a new strategy. No wait times, no load times, no pop ups. How many times in a classroom does a student hand something in and then it takes 2-3 days (or 2-3 weeks!) To get feedback?! What is the point? The student is onto the next school challenge and that information is useless to them. I used to complain that students didn’t read the comments I spent so long making. After gamifyimg though it made complete sense!

Gaindication f-word 3 – Fun Failure States

Most importantly though the failure is not acknowledged as failure. It is a temporary set back. The game isn’t rubbing it in that the kid failed. It just is. In fact its kind of fun. Ben laughs at the way the snail dies sometimes. My favorite video game image is Mario dying in the NES version of Super Mario Bros.

Mario looms like he’s just shrugging it off and saying “oh, well… Get back in there and try again.” Rapid feedback and a don’t stop to think abojt the fail. Its not about Free to Fail its maFree to Succeed! Which all brimgs me to 

Gamification F-word 4 – Fiero

At the end of the Snail Bob video Ben says “I did it!”. That feeling of accomplishment and overcoming a challenge. This little boost of adreneline or endorphins preps the player for the next challege. How can we do this in the classroom? 


I loved watching my son play this puzzle game so much and it was a great reminder of those F-words I want to keep using in my class. Won’t you join me in teaching others about these F bombs?