I am a mediocre Fortnite Player.

It feels good to get that off my chest…

I have wasted many an hour during the pseudo-Quarantine on this game and, honestly, mediocre is a vast improvement. When I started I was dreadful. I think there is a lesson here!

Not So Many Victory Royales

My initial hesitation with Fortnite was based on the hype surrounding the Battle Royale mode. I am not a huge fan of Shooters but my sons had been begging to play the game with their friends and my wife and I decided to give the game a chance. At its core Fortnite is played in the Battle Royale mode – a Third Person Shooter with 100 players battling each other to be the final survivor. There are other game modes, but that is another post. Think of Battle Royale as a 10 minute Hunger Games scenario. If the goal of playing Fortnite is to earn a Victory Royale I have only been successful 1 time in Solo play and a few times playing with (my much more impressive) sons in Duos and Squads.

(Not my victory!)

If the Fortnite model were implemented as a classroom design I would be a frustrated and irritable student! My inability to “win” would be the same as never getting a 100% on a test or always getting papers back covered in red ink. Given enough time I would disengage and stop trying. I would through the controller and vow to stop playing the game entirely.

This is no good for the game designer/teacher either. Interestingly, my oldest son (10 years old) has begun to act like a stereotypical teacher that gets frustrated when students “don’t get it”. He can’t watch me or my wife play anymore. He is an expert and gets extremely frustrated by our poor tactics and “dumb” decisions. Rather than give us too many directions (marking the papers up) or yelling at us (hello disciplinarians) he walks away (disengages). I started making him leave because I get so frustrated with his frustration that I felt like I could snap at him! Think about what that would be in a classroom setting! I would be a “discipline problem” showing “disrespect”!

All of this made me think about why I haven’t just given up on the game. I am still logging on every day or two. In spite of never winning I am still mostly enjoying the Fortnite experience. So what is it about the game that even though I struggle just to make the top 10 I keep playing?

Isn’t this a question we should be asking about our classrooms? Why would our students continue to play a game they would never win? If a student knows that they will never get a 100% on the test why would they try (or try all that hard?). If they know a teacher will mark up their papers why would they keep putting in the effort? If a teacher assumes that a student will never succeed what does that mean for the relationship and the teacher’s role with that student? To better serve our students we need to reframe what victory our classroom!

The answer is that Epic Games (the Fortnite game designers) have figured out ways to reframe what it means to “Win”! While the Victory Royale is still the central mechanic of Fortnite the game’s deeper engagement tools allow for other forms of victory. The most important of which is the Challenge System.

Fortnite Challenges

Every Thursday Fornite releases “Weekly Challenges”.

The challenges are usually related to new landmarks on the map or are tied into the theme for the current season. For example, in the picture you can see one of the challenges is to damage an opponent with Stark Industries Energy Rifles. These were a new to the game so the designers are motivating players to find and use this new tool. It is quite a clever design mechanic for a few reasons. The first is that it encourages exploration. The second is that it is essentially a side quest. The motivation lies in knowing that while I may not be able to achieve the overall win condition of eliminating all of the other players I can pretty easily go off on this side quest and complete those objectives. If I fail I can easily just jump into another Battle Royale and try again. The weekly challenges also create an overarching connection to all of the individual Battle Royales. Instead of seeing each Battle Royale as an individual unit the challenges combine a series that will have a pay off later both thematically and with rewards.

The Fortnite Challenges come in several forms. I have mentioned Weekly Challenges but there are also Season Long “punch card” challenges, daily challenges, and XP awards for completing simple tasks. In the current season “punch cards” are worth 14,000XP each, the first 5 daily challenges are worth 10,000XP and then 1,000XP for any additional but the weekly challenges are worth 35,000XP. If the player has the Battle Pass (about $7 per season) they earn new skins, characters, pick axes, etc… each time they level up. Apparently I am a mix of “Player”, “Achiever”, and “Free Explorer” in the Marczewski’s Player and User Types Hexad.

What does all of this mean for our classroom?

In my district’s mandated grading categories “MAJOR” grades are expected to account for 50% of the overall final average and are typically considered Tests and Projects. In my thinking these Major Grades are like the Victory Royale. Some students just accel at taking tests and others just seem to be stuck in the above average to mediocre levels. I don’t think that this is any more their fault for “not trying hard enough” as it’s my fault for not “trying hard enough” to get a Victory Royale. So lets shift the frame of Victory.

I am working on weekly challenges based around skills activities. For example, I expect that students participate in the National History Day Competition. On the weekly challenge list I might include “locate 5 new primary sources for your topic in the Library of Congress archives” or “List and describe three similarities and differences between the Massachusetts and Virginia Colonies”. After developing and posting the list students would have the option of participating in the main activity for the day or working through their challenge list. Again, this is in the prep and build phase but I am excited about the possibility of every student having that success in the classroom every day. In this period of global pandemic when we are all anxious and scared wouldn’t it be great to have a win every day.

(PS. Before you comment that all students can do better if they just study harder consider that for the SC US History End of Course test which is the model for all of our district mandated Common Assessments eliminates any test question that field tests with more than 80% of students getting the correct answer. It is a sorting mechanism not an effort to determine what students understand.)

(PSS. No nonsense about participation trophies. I am working through a theory that the grievance politics of the last 4 years is built on the backs of people that were told the only way to be “a real man” was to win and “second place is first loser”. Toxic Masculinity has no place here.)