Gamified Everything

Post date: Jan 5, 2019 6:25:43 PM

Last weekend I went to a board game cafe in Los Angeles called Gamehaus. You pay $7.50 for the day and get to play anything from their ridiculously vast library of games. It was a ton of fun (and the food was delicious) but what stuck out to me most was this:

Well, not actually this. When I bought my lunch the cards were different. They asked "Who was better?" with the choices being John McClain of Diehard or Kevin McCallister of Home Alone. It was the same idea, however, two tip jars. There was no sign saying "we appreciate your tips" or anything of the sort. Just a very simple game to encourage people to tip.

And it worked. Every person I saw put a tip in one of the jars. I would have tipped anyway but I know I tipped more because I really wanted a Kevin to win. I even got into a debate with my brother and the cashier over the choice. It mattered!

What makes this a game? The simple act of choice. I've been thinking a lot lately about using choice as a game element. What I've come to understand is that choice isn't just an element of games - it is the defining elements of games. Without choice you don't have a game.

Candyland is the perfect example. It has become a running joke among my students to suggest Candyland when I ask what game they want to play. They know it is the one thing I won't ever play - because it isn't a game at all. There is no choice. Candyland is determined the minute you place the cards in the stack. At least Chutes and Ladders has a spinner that I can choose to spin with varying force. Candyland has nothing. It isn't a game.

Adding choice adds that game element our brains crave. Even Netflix is getting in on the action with their latest Black Mirror episode "Bandersnatch." Throughout the episode you make choices as the viewer that guide how the story plays out. I was enthralled throughout despite the absurdity of the story. I had so much fun playing it out.

This leads me to wonder where else I can fit choice into my lessons. My "either-or" experience with the tip jars leads me to believe that simply adding a few more vocab words to a flashcards assignment and letting students choose among the words would a simple and effective change. Of course, it also makes me want to double down on my recent Adventure game lessons. I've got one in the works on the Age of Exploration that is coming together nicely!

I've also had interesting discussions with colleagues about how much choice is too much. The concept of "decision paralysis" says that given too many unclear choices many people will often choose none. I've seen this in some of my own students with my Choose Your Own Adventure projects. Some kids, especially in the last few years, are just not prepared to make choices on their own. They've had everything chosen for them for so long that given the options they just choose nothing. I've had to develop more specific menus of assignments and topics and even then I sometimes just have to tell a student which one to do.

So, like anything, choice isn't the magical pill to make everything in our classrooms better but I think the simple application of it as shown by Gamehaus can go a long way toward directing our students to the behaviors we want from them.