Monday, 4 August 2014

On Rewards, Progress and Challenge.

In my last post I mentioned a discussion I had with a non-gaming colleague. This discussion occurred while I was writing my last post, and after she had read the 4 previous posts to that. It was a very powerful discussion for me as to what makes games engaging for her, and what makes her keep returning to a game.

There were two very interesting points, the first being the comment "I know exactly how your wife feels." So we followed that path for a while and discussed why she was thinking about abandoning Dragon Story. The main reasons were the same as my wife's. She did not see that she was making progress, or that the progress was far too slow.

This led to a discussion around her needing to see that there are 'goals' or that she is making visible progress. However she then shared another story as to why she stopped playing a different game advertised in Dragon Story. She was making heaps of progress, up to level 60 or something after only a few days and she still deleted it. The reason was that she felt there was no challenge, it was too easy. So it seems there is an interesting interplay between feeling challenged and making progress. 

Her ending thoughts in this part of the discussion, after getting onto many of the other games she had discontinued playing was something along the lines of "There needs to be achievable challenge, it cannot be too easy, or impossible. I don't mind repeating something 8-10 times to 'get it' and I get a good sense of achievement when I do, however too much more repetition makes it feel like you are making no headway."

Now skip forward to Sunday evening. "I JUST GOT A DIAMOND DRAGON" rang out just before we went to bed. The real interesting part about this comment is the chat I had with my wife after it. I asked her how she felt, she said she felt pretty darn good. I then asked her if she felt this might get her back into playing the game a bit more, her response was that yes it probably would. So here is something she has been trying to achieve for a few weeks, to gain an elusive, ultra rare diamond dragon. I think one of the reasons she was becoming disengaged was because I have had a diamond dragon since very early on and we started playing together, and while I was very lucky to get one early on without even trying, she had been actually trying for quite some time.

This leads to the second interesting point from the discussion on Friday. "I don't mind some luck being involved, but it cannot be all luck, there needs to be some 'skill' involved." This is why my colleague plays Bubble Witch still, but has moved away from Candy Crush. She feels that Candy Crush is all about being lucky, especially in the 300+ levels, however Bubble Witch has some element of skill.

Now I am not sure about this, since I have also given up on Candy Crush, but I would think that there is some element of 'skill' in it, but it is so far hidden behind the 'luck of the draw' that it feels non-existent. I have not played Bubble Witch myself, but have seen others playing it, and agree that there is a much more visible element of 'skill' in the placement of your shots. This of course prompted me to ask about Angry Birds, knowing that she used to play it and did not anymore. This led back to the first point, the levels just got too hard to feel like she was getting anywhere.

When I shared the diamond dragon story with my colleague this morning, she also quite happily shared her story of 'elation' over achieving a goal over the weekend that she felt was impossible on Friday. So I know that this subject is taking up an awful lot of my blog space at the moment, but it is a very interesting perspective to take on games, gaming and gamers, one that I have never investigated before.

Now if we try to apply this to an educational perspective, not just about using MinecraftEdu in my class, or the project I initially started this investigation for, I think we get something which is probably not new or groundbreaking at all. To engage students in learning we need to have it challenging but achievable, with visible progress and some level of skill involved, it cannot be just pure chance that learning happens. So here you are, 5 or 6 posts into my discussion on an upcoming project and you are not sitting there going "Elfie, you idiot, as if you didn't already know this."

Well if that is indeed what you are thinking you would be right, of course I 'knew' this, but I have never been 'slapped in the face with it' until now. So where to from here? I still want to focus on including as much of this into the upcoming project in MinecraftEdu, with the aim of doing some real serious reflection on what components I am including, why they are there, and then hopefully what impact they have on student engagement and learning outcomes.

I am trying to think of MinecraftEdu as an instructional tool for this project, forget about the game, I never made it a 'game' in my classes early on, I always just used it as a tool to help me teach my students. This may mean a slight deviation back towards some teacher directed activities within the virtual world, I think I have been doing myself, and by consequence my students, a disservice by removing the teacher interactions.

So now you may be sitting there going, "Is it going to be fun for the students?" My response, FOR SURE!!! I am not going to ignore the information I have come across over the last few weeks about what makes games fun, for gamers and non-gamers, I still want this to be a really fun learning experience for students, I just think that if we are all having fun together it will be better for all, instead of me standing on the side trying to 'force' students to follow the path I have laid out for them. 

Well that is another pretty long post, thanks for reading and feel free to leave any comments or suggestions below.

Friday, 1 August 2014

A Non-Gamers Perspective.

So with all the making things engaging by investigating what makes gamers play going through my head lately, Last night I had the opportunity to have a relatively in-depth discussion with a non-gamer about a recent game they have been playing. My wife is the one that started playing Dragon Story a couple of months ago, so I started playing 'with' her. Last night we had a chat about why she had given the game up and was no longer interested in playing it, or at least why she was clearly not as interested as she was at the beginning.

Now my wife is definitely a non-gamer, she will say it is because most games require some form of hand eye coordination, but given our chat that may not be 100% true. Here is a brief summary of our chat.

What made you keep going back in the beginning?
The dragons were cute and I could collect dragons I didn't have easily.
I felt like I was getting somewhere.

What made you stop enjoying it?
The time taken for no reward, now that I have a fair few of the dragons, I wait hours for them to breed, and then hours for them to hatch, only to already have that dragon, and have to sell it for a ridiculously low value.
What is the 'end game' what am I aiming for, how does it end? I mean with Mario you get to the little flag and "insert attempted Mario flag raising music here".
The cost and time to do things that are not getting me anywhere, what is the point.

What would make you go back to playing it?
Being able to 'gift' the dragons I don't need to others, instead of having to sell them for next to nothing.

So I stewed on this a bit last night in my sleep (my best thinking happens while I sleep) and clearly she has a different 'need' from games than I do. She wants to feel a social connection, which is definitely missing in Dragon Story, I however am a collector, I want the dragons and don't really care that much about social interactions as long as I am getting new dragons.

But what really interests me the most about all of this is the initial 'hook' that made a non-gamer play. I am now also talking to other non-gamers that play these kinds of games, Candy Crush, Bubble Witch and Dragon Story to name a few. There are many of my colleagues, who will readily say that they are non-gamers, that play these games through Facebook. Are they chasing the social connection like my wife, or is that just the beginnings, and then like it did for me some point does it switch from the social, conversation starter (which is why I started Dragon Story, so I could talk to my wife about it) to the collector or achiever types playing and those wanting the social connection stop playing as they need something else to keep them coming back, which Dragon Story is missing, at least in the eyes of my wife.

So how does this apply to my upcoming project? Well it appears that there may be a 'grace' period where even those gamers (or non-gamers) who crave particular things from a game will play the game to see if it meets their needs. How long this grace period lasts I think would be dependent on how alluring the game is to the other needs that the person playing has, even if it is not their main gaming need. So given that this is a relatively short term project, I may not need to hit all the 'gamer' needs exactly from the start, but instead give a 'sniff' of them and allow students to find them on their own.

More discussions have been had since I started writing this post 3 or so hours ago, but I have written enough for now, and need to think about these conversations more before I write about them, so stay tuned for more, I feel like I am on the verge of a big shift in my teaching practice. As always thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.