Top 10 Gamification Fails

Gamification is intended to increase learner motivation in the classroom. However, I see many practices which actually decrease the effectiveness of a gamified setting. Here is a top 10 list of gamification fails I have encountered. How does your classroom stack up?

#10 -Playing Games in the Classroom- Playing more games in class might be a strategy for Game Based Learning, but it is NOT Gamification. Gamification is applying layers of game mechanics to your classroom that create a dynamic learning environment for your players. For a deeper explanation of the difference, see my post on Gamification vs Game Based Learning.

#9 -Inconsistent Rules- If there is one thing players hate, it is when the rules of a game change because the game designer is scrambling to fix an error they did not anticipate. If a team finds a loophole in the rules they deserve to capitalize on it. If others find the loophole they deserve it too. If there is another thing players hate, it is getting penalized for something when someone else gets away with it. Enforcing rules only some of the time creates a sense of unfairness and nobody wants to play a game that is unfair.

#8 -Neglecting Player Types- People play games for many reasons. Some play to win, others play to play, others play to make friends. There are many models, most stemming from the research of Bartles, about player types. Most gamified systems cater heavily to the competitive type. If your game ignores the cooperative or explorative types, they will disengage. Diversify your quests to consider all types of learners or players.

#7 -One Path to Victory- The best gamified classrooms rely on a foundation of diversified learning experiences. A non-diversified challenge structure is a sure fire way to kill player motivation for anyone who is not inherently motivated to finish all the tasks. It will turn any XP or badge earned into a checkmark. Checkmarks are not highly motivating! Learn more about diversified learning structures in Designing the Player Journey.

#6 -Trading Status for Stuff- According to Gabe Zichermann, the most powerful motivator of players in games is Status, e.g. experience points or levels. Some teachers create a classroom store where students can buy real world things like school supplies, bathroom passes, or even homework passes. Not only does this create a lot of work for the teacher to keep track of points spent and items bought, it greatly devalues the in-game XP earned. This practice trades intrinsic motivation for extrinsic motivation. Don’t do it. Read more about it in Status: The “Ticket” to Intrinsic Motivation

#5- Shameful Leaderboards- Leaderboards operate on two mechanics, fame and shame. While competitive types thrive on the leaderboard, it will surely alienate non-competitive players. The easiest ways to make leaderboards shameful is by making them mandatory and long term. Running a whole-class leaderboard for the duration of a semester will most likely be demotivating for most players. See my post on 6 Tricks for Shameless Leaderboards for ways to effectively integrate a leaderboard in your gamified classroom.

#4 -Grading on XP- If you already have an in-game feedback system like badges or XP, it is tempting to use it to determine the traditional grade on the report card. XP or badges should be a celebration of hard work, not a way to compare a student to a standard. A clever teacher will design diversified experiences aligned with the standards and use rubric-based grading on each performance task. Never just say get “x” number of points for an “A”. Also, this type of grading mechanic can actually cause players to stop playing when they have earned an “A” rather than keep playing for the sake of the game. For a more in-depth look, check out Why Grades and XP Don’t Mix.

#3 -Feedback Lag- Gamification speeds up the classroom feedback process by breaking larger tasks into smaller, concrete quests and then letting the player know very quickly if they have succeeded.  The easiest ways to slow down this feedback loop are to have large tasks with subjective terms of success. Nobody wants to play a game where they hit the “jump” button and then have to wait a week to know if Mario made it cross the gap!  Technology can sometimes help speed up  this process, but don’t let it get in the way.

#2 -Breaking Character- Your students are trying on new identities as they play your game. You should get in there and play too. Avatars can be very helpful in this endeavor. Nothing makes people feel more self conscious about really getting into a game when one person, especially someone in power, refuses to “geek out” with the rest of the gang. If your theme is Space Pirates you better be ready to put on a space helmet AND an eye patch!

3729453412_b8ed13fda2#1 -Not Celebrating Failure- Games celebrate success, but they also celebrate failure. If you are not celebrating failure, you are not celebrating learning. By only celebrating success, you put a value judgement on perfection rather than growth and persistence. Do you have badges for “Sticking With It,” “Big Improvement,” or “Asking for Help”?  

How do you celebrate failure in your classroom?

Want to read more about Gamification? Check out the Insert Coin Series which details best practice for educational gamification.

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