Launch Codes: The Power of Access and Mystery

A staple of old First Person Shooter games was the “Key”. When my friends and I began playing DOOM in the 1990s a pretty common mechanic in that game was finding a series of keys that would unlock doors which would set you on another mission to find another key to open another door. The challenge was not in finding the keys but in getting through the massive hordes of demons that were in the way.

The core mechanic involved in these key fetching activities is the SAPS reward of ACCESS. In order to get access to the next mission the player first had to demonstrate the ability needed in the current mission. The DOOM model is fairly crude but this concept can get fairly complex. In the Grand Theft Auto series, for example, certain areas of the map can only be unlocked by completing certain story lines. In this way theme and narrative are used as a way to scaffold access to new game items, novelty is constantly refreshed, and new game play elements can be introduced.

Experience Points, or XP, and Leveling Up are both used in a similar fashion in RPGs. If a player wants to have access to new armor or weapons they need to progress through the game or reach a certain level in their character’s growth. If a player wants to learn the skill of Dwarven Armor crafting with their Orc type character in Skyrim you must first be a level 40 in crafting. Leveling up allows access to new weapons and skills which in turn help increase your powers in the game.

I have played with this mechanic in the past and it is usually pretty successful. In the current standard (S6 – The Interwar Years) I identified 4 “must-do’s” for students in order to earn 4 keys which would open access to a Special Challenge. I required students take notes (several format options) for 3 flipped video lessons and complete at least one “mission” activity. One flipped lesson note session was due per week and the mission was due by the day of the activity. While I did have a due date for the flipped recordings students were still able to get full credit and the key up to the day of the special activity.  Mtgcardsmith.com has a full image “Token” option so naturally I made the keys with this site. I saved the card images as .png files and printed them as 32 per page photos. These were the perfect little badge sized key images. Here is what they looked like.

 

I was a bit surprised how valuable these little things became! Students began taping their keys to their notebooks and laptops!

I’ve done badge collections in the past with mixed success. My hypothesis with the value of these badges is the 2nd part of this element – I kept the Special Challenge a mystery. Well, sort of. If the students were paying attention to the narrative in other parts of my game they would have learned that the main character had been captured by a rival organization and was being forced to learn content in order to break a series of locks to gain access to a special new piece of technology. If they weren’t paying attention to that the challenge was a Mystery. The sense of wonder or of possibility in what lies ahead can be a rather interesting driver in games. The openness of a special mystery challenge is a lot more motivating than the promise of some gold, some XP, or some card. In fact, I never gave students the idea that there would be a “Stuff” reward – no promise of cards or candy – and the access to this new challenge was enough. There were many nights when I stayed up just a bit too late trying to level up to see what new power I could move to in the Final Fantasy VII leveling tree or new area on the map would be opened.

Students were also told there would be dire consequences for failing to obtain the locks – I refused to tell students what the consequences would be for not completing the missions. Several students pestered me about this and then relented and did the work. The mystery consequence sounds a lot more ominous than “you have to complete the missing lecture notes instead of participating in the special challenge”.

The combination of Access rewards and Mystery elements worked so well that I am tweaking it for my unit on WWII and the Cold War. In this unit they will be collecting “Launch Codes” instead of keys.

If students collect all the Launch Codes the will also receive a cipher key that their guilds can use to decipher the launch codes and earn access to a new special timed mission. The cipher by the way is my modification of a Masonic Cipher. I used Google Draw to create the cipher alphabet and these code tokens. The launch codes will be the clues in a locked Google Form and the completion message will send them to a timed digital breakout mission.

In the SAPS extrinsic rewards system, ACCESS is only below STATUS in terms of longevity and meaningfulness. I would encourage you to try out this PowerUp in your class!

 

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