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.


  1. I agree that short-term attainable goals are very important for learners or else they feel lost. This is partly the reason behind the design of the "JP buildings" on my own server where lessons progress from building to building. This helps students see both where they are going and where they have been for reflection.

    The first part of this post made me think of "flow" instantly. Too challenging and people give up, too easy and people get bored. The unpronounceable Hungarian pyschologist "Mihály Csíkszentmihályi" came up with this conecept:

  2. [quote]I don't mind repeating something 8-10 times[/quote]

    Here's a funny thing with games. When you study with books (classic way) you have to feel you have a 50% chance to make it. When it comes to games you can fail 80% of the times, and you continue till you do it.

    But yes, it can't be luck, it has to have a mix of collaborate and problem solving :)

    Again, take World of Warcraft, epic world monster and a chance to get a rare drop. You have to be enough people, different classes, you have to collaborate (and communicate) and when you do it right you achieve your goal.

    Interesting post as usual.

  3. Hi Stephen
    You spoke to me ages ago about setting up Minecraft in my school here in Adelaide. At the time I was having LOTS of problems. Things have moved ahead and I'd love to chat to you again, but I can't find your contact details. Can you contact me: