I can build it – but is it FUN?

At the beginning of Module 5 I had pretty much decided how the course was going to be laid out, and what activities would contribute to badges and how students could level up with points. The Moodle tools were challenging and I had experimented with many, discarded some, kept others, and just when I thought I had found the correct combination of tools, wound up changing it yet again. But a rhythm was clearly there, the feedback loops were tight, the concepts in place, and I thought I had a good foundation.

But I was concerned that something was missing. What if it wasn’t fun? I thought it was fun, but how would I know if students would find it fun? During this module we had extra time to build because there were no discussions so I took that reading time to explore some additional game design concepts I had not yet focused on. After reviewing a few sites on game design principles that were way too specific to building video games, I stumbled on an archived presentations on the theory of fun in games by Raph Koster.¬† Searching the HVCC eBrary site I found a short book by him that helped me identify the important structures I needed in a game environment. His book also helped me wrap my head around what fun is, and when and how things become not fun. I can’t link to the book but here is a link to his website that includes some presentations based on the book. Raph Koster Website. Also an excerpt from the book can be found here.

Most notable for me was the idea that if a game is too hard, if the “patterns” presented read as “noise” to the player, they will give up. Koster states “When we meet noise, and fail to make a pattern out of it, we get frustrated and quit” . To me this means, in a gamified course, that there needs to be a student sense that they can see what is going on and they can succeed. Also that the tasks initially should be simple and have a quick reward to start the pattern of the rest of the course. I decided to make the first badge awards based on successfully entering the game/logging in to the course.My concerns about how fun the course would be as a gamified environment were alleviated when I read the following:

“Fun is all about our brains feeling good – the release of endorphins into our system. The various cocktails of chemicals released in different ways are basically all the same. Science has shown that the pleasurable chills that we get down the spine after exceptionally powerful music or a really great book are casued by the same sorts of chemicals we get when we have cocaine, an orgasm, or chocolate. Basically, our brains are on drugs pretty much all the time.
One of the subtlest releases of chemicals is at that moment of triumph when we learn something or master a task. This¬† almost always causes us to break out into a smile. After all, it is important to the survival of the species that we learn – therefore our bodies reward us for it with moments of pleasure. There are many ways we find fun in games … . But this is the most important.
Fun from games arises out of mastery. It arises out of comprehension. It is the act of solving puzzles that makes games fun.
In other words, with games, learning is the drug. “(Koster, p 40)

Reviewing my course, the structure, the feedback or reward loops, I think that mastery can be visualized with my process regularly. There are multiple journeys through the “game”, all of which present challenges. Lots of small challenges (vocabulary, study guide questions, quiz questions) help build up skills for larger more mastery level challenges (Teach the class, annotate an image, Final Project). I believe the material is broken down in ways that it will not appear as “noise” unless a student is significantly underprepared for college level work. And in those cases, there is a team structure within the course to support them. They can use the collaborative tools to get peer explanations and help them build their own skills.

I think this course will be fun. I will have to assess that by surveying my students at the end.

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Koster, Raph, and Will Wright. Theory of Fun for Game Design. New York: Paraglyph, 2004. Web

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