Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Game Dynamics

At the risk of sounding like a David Hopkins echo, he posted this really interesting clip on his blog recently. Game dynamics are something I haven't really thought much about, but this presentation certainly made me reflect on how I could apply it in my work building online learning for tertiary students. The clip is 20 minutes long (although I think, given the speed at which Priebatsch speaks, it should really be 30 minutes!) and the word-for-word transcript feels a little disjointed, so here's my summary of Priebatsch's main points.
Game dynamics – the motivations that keep people gaming - can be used to motivate study behaviours. Four game dynamics mentioned in his talk are:

1. The appointment dynamic – in order to succeed, players have to do a predefined thing at a pre-defined place. In real life, this is reflected in practices such as ‘happy hour’. Examples that can be seen in the gaming world include Farmville in Facebook – water your crops every few hours or they’ll wilt…
Using this dynamic to motivate student learning, we could award points for students completing certain formative activities within a certain time frame, or deduct points if they don’t.

2. Influence and status - the more points you get, the higher your status. Banks and airlines already use this by awarding ‘gold’ cards and platinum status to customers… the attached status means that more people want them. In online gaming, status allows you to go from this to this:

In schools, the same principles are applied at a very basic level, where your grades can go from an E to an A. According to Priebatsch, Princeton University is extending the gaming dynamic by offering opportunities to ‘level-up’, so if your grades are low, you can complete a series of quizzes which earn you experience points, allowing you to improve your grade level.
I guess we already use a basic version of this by using the Moodle quiz results block which displays the names of the students scoring highest (or lowest) on a particular quiz. We don't really provide level-up opportunities, and the implications for getting such an idea through all the curriculum approval hoops boggles the mind, but it is a really interesting (and student-centred) idea.
3. The progression dynamic – many games require you to move through a series of graded steps in order to make progress. When presented with a progress bar, people are driven to do what is needed to move the slider across from the left to the right. We could use the progress dynamic to drive students to certain activities in order to complete the progress slider and unlock rewards.
I have done this to some extent when using the Moodle lesson function, but I haven't attached any reward to completion other than personal satisfaction. It would be fun to create some sort of nurse-avatar who could earn equipment and move up levels as a result, wouldn't it!
4. Communal discovery – everyone has to work together to reap rewards. A real example of this was when the website Digg got going – Digg is a news website where people contribute the news stories. People could move up and down a leader board based on points readers awarded to the stories they posted. The gaming aspect of the leader board became so powerful that it overtook the purpose of the website. A group of seven at the top of the leader board joined together and worked to make sure that they remained at the top by closing out other people’s stories while recommending their own.
I guess this one is key, and it links to the FOC 2010 course by reinforcing the value of social networking and collaboration. We're still not doing this one particularly well, although we are getting better at it. Encouraging students to see the value of networking and collaboration is an ongoing project requiring constant reinforcement and modelling.

Game dynamics is definitely something I want to learn more about... I know from observing students engaging with Moodle for the first time, that the resources they access first and spend most time on are those that involve interaction and gaming, even if at the most basic level. Whilst I'm not an online gamer myself (give me a good book any time) I can see the power that gaming strategies could have to transform education.


  1. This is a great summary Jean and saves me having to re-watch the video. He articulated concepts that I had never really thought about yet make a lot of sense. I agree there is huge potential to use these concepts consciously to change behaviour.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Karen. The ideas from that video have really stayed with me over the last few days! I'm trying to imagine how I could encourage nursing students to engage with online learning by earning points in some sort of small-scale virtual world! I wonder if I could create nurseville instead of farmville?

  3. Like you Jean, I would like to learn more about this online gaming, but one red flag that alerts me is the fear of it being addictive, just like real life gaming.