If you haven’t noticed… I have spent the last several months learning the ins and outs of Fortnite from my pre-teen sons. They are enthusiasts and while I am not a huge fan of 1st person shooters I find this game immensely interesting from a gamification stand point. Fortnite is a free download but players will spend virtual truckloads of V-bucks to buy items for the game and spend hours every day in this online space that doesn’t seem to change that much. Well, that is what I thought before I was duped into a Quarantine Immersion. I have written a bunch about my various Fortnite Inspired Classroom Mechanics – Fortnite Challenges: Re-Frame ‘Victory’, Fortnite Lessons: V-Bucks and Weaponized Social Fun, Customizable Student HQs: Bitmoji Classrooms, Fortnite and Google Slides, Weekly Challenges Update. Lately, Late Work Penalties have gotten me all worked up and I began to think about how Fortnite handles “late work”. The answer is surprisingly relevant to the classroom discussions. First, it is important to have a little background about the Battle Pass and XP system.

Fortnite’s designer, Epic Games, significantly reboots its game every few months. These reboots are organized by Seasons and Chapters. Currently, Fortnite is in Chapter 2 Season 4. My family and I started playing back in April 2020 at the end of Season 2 which had a Spy theme, Season 3 had a Ocean theme and Season 4 is Marvel themed. Since Fortnite is a free download Epic games needed someway to make money off of the game. One way they make money off of the players is buy selling a Battle Pass. The last few seasons the Battle Pass has had 100 levels. When each level is reached players that have purchased the battle pass get a little reward – a new skin, pickaxe, wrap, etc… In order to “level up” the player needs to earn XP. There are many ways to earn XP but the fastest way is to complete challenges, released weekly and daily, or completing season long challenges called punch cards. The cool part of the XP system is the way they handle the game’s “due dates”.

XP and the Challenges – Weekly Challenges

All Week 3 Challenges Guide! - How To Complete ALL Week 3 Challenges - Fortnite  Chapter 2 Season 4 - YouTube
This is from Chapter 3 so the XP rewards are 25,000XP instead of 20,000XP.

The closest match to a traditional due date is Fortnite’s Weekly Challenge System. Every Thursday is Challenge Day as Epic Games releases 7 new challenges worth at least 20,000XP (in chapter 4). One cool twist is they sometimes offer challenges worth 50,000XP but these are harder and they encourage squads to collaborate (and that is a post for another day). For perspective the first 5 Daily Challenges are worth 10,000XP and then additional dailies are worth 1,000XP. Here’s the cool part though – even though the challenges are released on Thursdays they can be completed at any point until the Season end date! That’s right. A player can complete week 1 challenges during week 11 and they still are worth 20,000XP!

XP and the Challenges – Chapter Punch Cards

All 55 Discovered Punch Cards in Fortnite Chapter 2 Season 4 - Punch Cards  Season 14 - YouTube

The punch cards are chapter long challenges. Unlike the Weekly Challenges the punch cards are available from day 1. The cards are usually “hidden” until the first punch is made which adds a bit of easter egg energy. Similar to the weekly challenges the punch cards are able to be completed for full XP all the way to the end of the Season!

XP and Challenges – Character Challenges

Fortnite Chapter 2 season 4 Week 1 challenge and rewards - Radio Times

Many of the new Character Skins earned in the Battle Pass have special challenges that will unlock variations on their look or, as in the Marvel chapter, new unique Emotes. These special challenges are unlocked once the new skin is earned. Just like the Weekly Challenges the character challenges can be completed at any point during the Season.

Epic Games understands Late Work Problems

  1. Demonstration of a skill is not time sensitive.
  2. Decreasing the value of the task over time decreases motivation.
  3. Lateness is a Behavior not a demonstration of skill.
  4. Sometimes players can’t complete the challenges through no fault of their own.
  5. #4 is an equity issue.

Epic Games uses the various challenges in order to encourage exploration of the map, test players skills, develop collaboration, and enhance the theme of the Season. Epic seems to understand that these are important features beyond simply earning XP but they also understand that XP is one factor that encourages the completion of the challenges. If Epic were to reduce the value of the XP awarded for a given challenge players would be less motivated to complete that challenge. One could argue that this might encourage players to complete the challenges in a timely manner; however a strict due date would likely lead to a net loss of player engagement. The theme would be harmed, the map would not be as fully explored, and skills would not be fully assessed. It is a net positive for players to have a great deal of leeway in deadlines.

Classroom Applications

Epic’s example is that late penalties are a net loss. They demotivate the player and, if players are less inclined to complete or give full effort, lead to poor data collection on the challenge. This leads me to believe that late penalties in the classroom are also a net loss for students. If we substitute student for player and assessment for challenge then we can easily see a classroom connection. If students receive a grade penalty based on the amount of time an assignment is late then there will likely be a loss of motivation to complete the work and the work that is completed will not be done as well if at all.

Using the Fortnite Challenge system as a model here is my proposal. Eliminate late penalties but set a hard deadline at the end of our “season”. In my case (as I previously discussed in Stop Collecting Papers) I have a soft deadline and a hard deadline for student late work. The soft deadline is the end of a unit. Students can still submit work and receive full credit for their work after the end of a unit BUT they are not allowed to work on a previous unit’s material during the new unit. This adds a small layer of accountability but does not harm the students grade with a penalty. The hard deadline is about a week before final grades are due. I am on a semester grade schedule of about 16 weeks for most of my classes but I do have a quarter based class which does make this a little more condensed. This does create some minor inconvenience from time to time. I do get a few more papers toward the end of a unit or semester but I maintain my high expectations for the work (see the Stop Collecting Papers post) and get better data and student participation as a result. My students are not failing because of an arbitrary date on the calendar or because of my inconvenience. If they demonstrate their skill or understanding before the hard deadline then they earn the points Fortnite’s challenge system.

In regards to points 4 and 5 above, it is becoming abundantly clear that distance learning is a challenge for many students. There are many reasons why students might not be able to complete work at home or why the work completed is not meeting high expectations. We need to not assume why this is the case and students should not be openly punished. In the game analogy there are many reasons why a player might not complete their challenges in a timely manner. To make this personal, my sons are avid Fortnite players but in the past have not been able to complete weekly challenges because we have gone on week long camping trips, have gotten sick, have been grounded, or their friends were out of town. In some cases I have not been able to complete challenges because I have had school or housework to do. The point is that not completing the challenges has nothing to do with the player’s skill (or in my case the lack thereof) but with the opportunity to demonstrate that skill. How often do we make assumptions about a student’s aptitude or attitude based on their ability to complete work on our arbitrary deadlines? We should not assume that lateness is caused by a student’s ability or lack thereof. There is likely some reason for the work not being completed whether it is a lack of interest, understanding, circumstances beyond their control, or simply undiagnosed trauma from living through a Pandemic. Late work and penalties become an issue of equity and zeros are wielded like a weapon towards those that are most vulnerable.