A constant struggle in creating a classroom game is the truism that a “game” is voluntary. As I design my class structures I attempt to build in an abundance of meaningful choices but on some level the students are required to “play the game”. Even with choices in the game though this violates the core concept of a voluntary game. My justification is that traditional school is already a game with traditional grades being the student’s score; I believe my game designs better serve the students.

This semester though I may have stumbled into a solution as I have experimented with an interactive map based quest system. In this structure I give students a fantasy world map that has multiple countries with a main quest in each, a series of side quests, a narrative delivered through NPCs, and even monsters like the Fiery Nether Dragon to battle! As I was preparing the unit I realized that it was all a bit over the top and some students might be a bit overwhelmed.

So I built in an opt out.

All of my students are required to complete “Battle Prep” which is just my way of saying completing notes activities on Flipped Recorded notes (that in itself is another post). That accounts for about 30% of the minimum XP in a given unit. 40-50% of the offered XP in a unit comes from district mandated common assessments the final chunk of offered XP (about 30-50%) comes from “quests” or skills based activities. This quest-based area is the focus of the interactive map and is the area where most of the game mechanics come into play and where I offer students the opt out.

To opt out of the “game element” I offer students a chamce to complete a common activity in American History classes called a Document Based Question or DBQ. This is an essay writing activity where students are given a set of documents and are asked to answer an open ended question using the documents to support their position. The analysis and writing skills are important but I find the process of the DBQ more inline with traditional organization. I offered this as an alternative to playing the game and out of 85 students in the gamified class about 10 took a copy of the DBQ with only 3 actually completing the assignment. The others quickly moved over to the gamified quest system.

I have two thoughts on why the students voluntarily selected the quest based system. The first is that it ties into the game based “player type” motivators that I have attempted to build into the structures. When designing the interactive maps I attempted to have something for all the various types. I refer to Andrjez Marczewski’s Player Type Hexad (below) for designing structures. Interestingly the “Player” player type is just concerned with collecting points so by offering a quick and easy path to XP without the other game elements I am actually tweaking their motivation too.

My second thought is the Power of the Default position. Most people will choose to keep the default settings when offered a choice. By making the game the default position most of the students will just assume that is the best choice. Maybe choosing the opt out takes more mental energy.

Whether it is the power of the default or the engaging mechanics of the game students are now choosing to play the game.

There is power in the choice.