The Mechanics Movitator: Angry Bird Inspiration

Game Inspiration can come in many forms and one of my deepest wells of inspiration come from watching my 5 and 7 year olds play video games on their Kindles. Typically they will play a game for a week or so and then get bored and download a new game. (Which is why we don’t buy games!) A few games are more sticky though and they keep coming back to them. With these games I like to question the boys why they like these games.

One of these sticky games for my oldest son is Star Wars Angry Birds. A few days ago, as Wes was begging me to watch him play, I asked him what he liked about the game. His response was interesting.

Since I already beat this level, sometimes I play just for fun… To see what other stuff I can destroy

This made me think that his engagement had something to do with the replayability of the levels. There is a great deal of randomness in how the structures collapse and this novelty can keep the player interested. Still, I felt like I needed to have some further understanding and kept asking him about it. During breakfast this morning he was showing me his strategy on his latest level so I probed a bit more.

At first I thought Wes was just into the Angry Birds format. Shooting birds and crashing things but his response was ‘gosh no’. When I asked why he kept asked why he kept replaTony certain levels it turned out that he was interested in the variety of bird types. There are dozens of different birds in the Star Wars version as well as a light and dark side option. All of this variety allows him to try new strategies and to test which ones work best.

When I thought aboit classroom applications my first thought was that Wes’ insight was into the “Power” in the SAPS philosophy. A deeper look though shows that the birds are not a reward to be earned but are vital to the gameplay. These new birds are built into the game and the unique characteristics of each bird are vital to the board they appear. In other words, not a Power reward.

So what is really going on here then? The motivation is in the mechanics!

Mechanics: Gamers who score high on Mechanics derive satisfaction from analyzing and understanding the underlying numerical mechanics of the system. For example, they may be interested in calculating the precise damage difference between dual-wielding one-handed swords vs. using a two-handed sword, or figuring out the resolution order of dodges, misses, and evasions. Their goal in understanding the underlying system is typically to facilitate templating or optimizing a character that excels in a particular domain. – Nick Yee (http://nickyee.com/daedalus/archives/pdf/3-2.pdf)

That quote is from Nick Yee, a researcher and tech thinker, that looked into the motivations of players in MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games). (seriously check this guy out at nickyee.com). My classroom insight is in the structural setup that allows students earn their score and the method they can play the “game”. Outside of a vocal minority, the majority of teachers will have to have some sort of grade system. In my view, the “mechanics” of our classroom, in respect to the above definition,  are the ways that students earn the required grade. I don’t mean only the actual mathematical formula (which is important) but also the processes and activities involved in the process. The mechanics need be simple to understand but offer a variety of game play options. When we talk about voice and choice I think what we are really talking about is allowing students to have the ability to craft their own path in achieving the score they would like to achieve. This is the essence of the mechanics motive and, I think anyways, the motivation for all of those students that some of my colleagues call “grade grubbers”. They are motivated by understanding the mechanics of the classroom and maximizing their “score”. Some are also motivated by the activities that are involved with earning the points.

My boys inspire me in so many ways. I never thought that my sons’ efforts to crash into little piggies would inspire me to think of how to improve my classroom.

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