In the field of gaming the term “epic fail” refers to a situation where you fail so dramatically that you can’t help but learn something from it. Even with the best designed gamified lesson plan, you are almost guaranteed to have an epic fail. Failure can be scary, especially in front of students, and most people want to avoid it. However, these failures are in fact they are the only ways that your game design will improve. Upon launching your first gamified experience, you will probably have a few unavoidable failures and here are some reasons why.
Playtesting- Nearly every game that you see in a game shop has been playtested. Playtesting is a rigorous process of finding all of the problems of a game. Test players play the game over and over, trying to exploit as many flaws as possible. During this process the game designer takes careful notes and makes tweaks to the rules and mechanics of the game to try to find the perfect balance of challenge and fun. In the classroom, we do not have the luxury of playtesting. Our game environment is happening in real time. We only get one shot at this version of the game and the next opportunity to make changes may very well be next year. That means that your students are the playtesters, and you can be certain that they will be trying to find every flaw and exploit every loophole in your game design. This should be no surprise because they are most certainly already trying to do this to your regular classroom structure. So, do what any great game designer does: take careful notes, make adjustments, and appreciate each failure as a way to improve your design.
Player Types- Despite their best laid plans, a game designer can never account for how players use the game to accomplish personal goals. Back in the early days of online gaming (we are talking text based games where you had to type in what you wanted to do), a researcher named Richard Bartles began to study how players used the game despite the designed intention of the game. He proposed that there were four types of players: Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, and Killers. Since then, other researchers have evolved this theory to include a few other types and change some of the terminology to fit more modern games. One of the more commonly accepted modern models is put forth by Andrzej Marczewski. His player type model includes eight categories like Socializers, Disruptors, and Philanthropists. If you think about your classroom, I guarantee you can picture the students who use your class, despite all of your best intentions, for socialization or for disruption. Be aware that just because you intend for your game to make your players behave in one way or another, there is no guarantee that they will. Each player has their own agenda and will leverage the game environment to achieve it. Guaranteed, you will fail to provide every player with what they need at all times.
Game Life Cycle- All games must come to an end. Most games are usually over when the story comes to an end or when one player wins. However, in a gamified classroom, there is no winner and everyone is playing simultaneously yet at a different pace. So, when should the game be over? When a game extends over a long period of time, the game tends to be over for a player whenever they choose to disengage. Players disengage at different times for different reasons. Maybe the game is too easy, or too difficult. Maybe they have run out of challenges to accomplish or repeatedly cannot pass a certain challenge. Maybe they have assumed they cannot win and seek an alternative oasis for their ego. Maybe they have found a different game to explore. The bottom line for teachers is that they should choose an appropriate time to end the game. My advice would be to quit while you are ahead, while most students are still engaged. Leave them wanting more. Letting a game run too long ensures that students will begin to disengage. This unknown time to student disengagement is a failure that will sneak up on you when you least expect it.
Gamification takes a lot of hard work and planning on behalf of the teacher. This is a big risk to take, especially considering the above challenges and all but guaranteed failure at some point in the process. I mention these not to frighten or discourage teachers from designing a gamified setting, but to allow teachers the space to fail gracefully. Even the best game designers need to deal with elements beyond their control. As gamified classroom designers we should expect failure especially on the first go. As teachers, we should welcome failure and model the failure process for our students, as it is truly the only way in which we advance.
Next up… Insert Coin: Part 9 – Game On!
Related articles: Top 10 Gamification Fails
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!