When you open up the box of a board game, like Candy Land, you will find that it includes all of the components needed for the game to work. Most board games include little player pieces so that people can keep track of themselves, an actual game board so that the pathway to winning is clearly marked, and an instruction book which not only tells the story but makes the rules clear so that everyone is on the same page. If you were package your game in a box, what would be included? You would need a system for tracking progress, guiding game flow, and informing players. So, let’s open up the box and take a look at how you might accomplish each one of these objectives while incorporating Identity, Challenge, and Feedback to create a cohesive and engaging learning environment.
Tracking Progress with Character Sheets –Character sheets are just like those little plastic gingerbread dudes in Candy Land. A character sheet is a way for each individual player to keep track of their own progress. This character sheet utilizes identity elements like a drawn avatar which acquires “stuff” upon gaining each new level. It also indicates themed status levels, like “Deck Hand” and “Captain,” which allow for character growth within the narrative. The character growth chart makes it so that player can always tell how many more experience points are needed to progress to the next level. On this sheet there is no place to display badges, but there easily could be. The beauty of a character sheet is that students can update it themselves, which makes the feedback immediate as soon as the teacher signs off on it. Gamification does not require technology, especially if the tech gets in the way of the fun! However, my favorite character sheet that I have seen lately actually uses Google Docs and incorporates student reflection for each mission. Read more on that in my upcoming article Interactive Character Sheets with Google Docs.
Guiding Game Flow with Menus and Maps- This mission menu or adventure map is like your game board. This a key element of the gamified classroom because breaks down a larger goal into smaller, discrete, and attainable tasks. While character sheets are intended to be a private matter, mission menus or adventure maps could be displayed in public. The tiered menu suggests appropriate levels of challenge as it onboards players with easy missions at first and then offers more difficult ones later. To add more complexity, consider making certain missions only available to certain character levels or guilds. There is also a differentiated XP value for each mission depending on its difficulty. The mission menu or adventure map should be like any good game board, clearly delineating the path to the Candy Castl… er… success.
Informing Players with a Dashboard- The game “dashboard” is the term I will use to define the public space for displaying information about the overall game. Your game dashboard is like your instruction booklet. Dashboards can be posted anywhere that is public. Usually this means a website, but it could also be a bulletin board. Your dashboard should have your narrative theme running through it, a posted mission menu, perhaps a list of badges available, updates for all players, random events, new information and clues for solving quests, and perhaps even an individual or guild leaderboard. Whatever is included and wherever it is, make it highly visible and update it often to help keep your players engaged with the game.
Components like these are what hold your game together and make it visible. Choose wisely though, because a poorly designed component could actually break your game. For example, an online dashboard might seem cool, however the upkeep and maintenance of that site might be overwhelming. This lag could slow your feedback system down, thereby decreasing engagement. The trick is to design game components that do only what you need and no more. Don’t get too flashy! The engagement does not come from a great website, it comes from a careful balance of Identity, Challenge, and Feedback. Figure out exactly what needs to be in the box and close the lid.
Next up… Insert Coin: Part 8 – Your Epic Fail
Catch up on the Insert Coin Series! Part 1- Introduction / Part 2-Why Gamification? / Part 3- Essentials of Game Design / Part 4- Identity Elements / Part 5- Challenge Elements / Part 6- Feedback Elements / Part 7: Some Assembly Required / Part 8- Your Epic Fail / Part 9- Game On!