Writing 200

Watching McGonigal’s video on “Saving the World Through Game Design” struck me with the idea of using games to enhance every day life.  I wish I knew about Chorewars when I lived in a frat house.  I wish my car were hooked up to an online miles-per-gallon leaderboard so I could compete with people at not speeding on the freeway.  These kinds concepts seemed like great way to take menial yet meaningful things like housework or environmental protection that don’t have any substantial level of instant gratification and adding to them a proxy prize.  Maybe washing a plate won’t mean much when I dirty it with grilled cheese crumbs later, but my character will be more able to kick my roommate’s character’s ass.  That’s reason enough to make me take that plate out of the sync, and put it away.

I was sold.  I found myself wondering what other types of situations this type of motivational translation could apply to.  Is there a gap in the market?  What’s something I know to be important but something I tend to lack the inspiration to work on on a daily basis?

Oh.  School.  Why don’t people make academics work like this?  It’d be awesome.

I’m often either unwilling or unable to picture the end of the term while mapping out all the different papers and assignments I need to complete in order to finish with an adequate grade.  I always come out of tests thinking “I should have studied more,” but I never go into them thinking “I haven’t studied enough.”  There’s a disconnect between what I see in retrospect and what I imagine going forward.  I need something to bridge that gap.  The act of preparation itself needs to mean something.  Channeling effort through a game would work.  Why doesn’t anyone ever do that at U of M?  I would love it.

Then I remembered this IRC conversation I had with my friend two and a half weeks ago:

 <Matt> okay
<Matt> im starting a one credit class tomorrow
<Matt> this is the first line of the syllabus
<Matt> third line, sorry
<Matt> The course itself is organized as a game: you must level up to earn the grade you desire. Point allocations for various quests are outlined below.
<paul> oh, that old chestnut
<paul> i wonder if its the original one, even
<Matt> you’ve had this type of thing in your class before?
<paul> not mine, but i’ve read about it online
<paul> apparently it actually works to bring grade averages up
<paul> people are motivated by the game element
<Matt> im motivated
<Matt> this seems fun
<Matt> 1300 ‘points’ get me an A and 2850 are available
<Matt> not counting ‘bonus participation points’
<Matt> i am a nerd
<Matt> i should not be this excited
<paul> lol
<paul> see it works

It has worked.  I’ve considered this class a game, and it’s held my attention so much more for it.  There are elements of competition (the weekly leaderboard announcement), a best score to improve (how many points can I get this week?), of character autonomy (do I want to write blog posts  or make a game or run a class discussion?), and even shortcuts (200 points for a 2000 word paper versus 200 points for 2500 words of blog posts.).  Picturing class with a different mindset than usual has made me appreciate the process more.  Not only am I learning, but I’m enjoying what I’m learning far more.  I even found myself playing a Clay Shirky TED speech on my radio show last night.  It’s not just a final grade that I focus on, it’s the activities leading up to it.

School has never been easy for me.  This is my third attempt at a bachelor’s degree.  If McGonical’s concepts have been this successful in making me think about academic practices in a better way, then I’m excited to see where else they can be applied.


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