HabitRPG takes gaming mechanisms and applies them to your daily life where rewards and experience points are given (and taken away) for the actions and activities that you complete (and do not complete) during your day. You progress as you to level up and in keeping with the social aspect of gaming you also have the opportunity to compete with others as they navigate their own gamified life. HabitRPG is playable through their website as well as on the app available for both Android and iOS devices. After having a chance to use this application in my own daily work and play, here is what I have learned about gamification through HabitRPG and how gaming mechanisms in general can be better applied to education?
Accessibility – If the intent of HabitRPG is to gamify your daily life, then it is critical that the application is available and accessible at any point during your daily routine. The ability to record completed habits and tasks on a mobile device increased the likelihood that I would remain engaged in this gamified experience. This dynamic would be completely different if I could only record or view my progress on a single computer or device. In such a circumstance, I would probably lose interest in staying connected to this gamified approach to life. To ensure that this gamified interface to life is always nearby, HabitRPG is now playable on iOS, Android and pretty much any device with a web browser.
So what does this mean for me as an educator? If I am gamifying a learning experience, the elements need to be easily accessible and present where the learning is taking place, as it is taking place. Moving the gamified learning experience online allows students to engage this new learning environment at school, home and everywhere in between.
Rewards need to have value to the player/learner – This application nearly fell apart for me very early in this gamified experience as I found that the rewards did not hold a lot of value for me. This in itself illustrated the importance of the reward system and the need to establish rewards or badges that are of value to the user. Fortunately, HabitRPG allows me to create my own rewards that hold greater value and incentive for me. Rather than working towards rewards such as virtual weapons, armour and potions, I found it much more motivating if I were looking to reward myself with a “dessert-based” treat for completing a full workout, or some earned gaming time for achieving a certain level of experience points.
So what does this mean for me as an educator? Experience points, rewards or badges will hold little appeal for students if they do not hold some value to the student trying to achieve them. What would be a true reward or compelling badge for students to achieve? Perhaps this is a worthwhile discussion to have with my class. More on this later.
Goals and levels of appropriate challenge – In HabitRPG you also set the challenges or goals in the form of “habits”, “to do” items and “daily” tasks. Completing these tasks can earn you experience points or rewards, however failure to complete these tasks may result in penalties. Setting challenges at an appropriate level is critical as goals that are either too difficult or too easy will simply frustrate or bore the participant. Furthermore, in order to maintain the interest of the “player”, goals and challenges need to change and adapt as the player continually progresses and improves.
So what does this mean for me as an educator? This concept of appropriate challenge reflects the principles underlying Vigotzky’s zone of proximal development (Hume, 2011). The idea of building upon one’s current knowledge base and understanding is another element of good game design. Arguably, good games find ways of offering levels of challenge that serve to motivate rather than frustrate the player (McGonigal, 2011).
In the classroom, achieving a learning environment that offers appropriate levels of challenge for students is reflected in the concept of differentiated instruction (Hume, 2007). Tiering is a specific strategy that attempts to engage students at their appropriate starting point with course content. Gamification of instruction through the use of structures or “levels” that allow students to either select the learning pathway that is most suitable for their current level of understanding or quickly access content and media that supports the struggling student. Similarly, gamification also involves providing increasing levels of challenge for students as they progress and master content and concepts.
Social – The ability to share with and compete against other HabitRPG “players” is another compelling motivator for this platform. The ability to measure your progress with the progress of your peers is in another form of feedback that can help you determine where you are doing well and where you could improve. In one way, this gamified approach encourages players to talk about their triumphs and challenges as well as their strategies or approaches to overcome failure and achieve success (McGonigal, 2011). In this particular case, it also raises an interesting scenario where participants can be trying to achieve different goals and objectives. This raises another powerful social interaction where participants may need to collectively determine common or at least comparable objectives and goals so that levels of achievement hold a consistent value across the field of “players”.
So what does this mean for me as an educator? The social aspect and potential of gamification can be quite extensive and powerful. For the learning environment, this offers the chance to go beyond playful, competitve banter (or “trash talk”) between students and instead encourages deeper conversations about their own respective experiences with the content. Currently, we can see this powerful social connection behind many of today’s popular video games where there are players continually posting tips, guides and strategies in the form of blog postings, videos, etc. Coming back to the classroom, this offers the opportunity for students to participate in setting the goals and objectives for the gamified learning experience as well as the criteria for success and the resulting rewards and achievements at the end.
So what is next? Linking this back to my desire to gamify a learning experience for teachers on the topic of Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs), HabitRPG presents some features that I would want to have in my gamified learning environment. It also made me consider how I will actually execute and provide these gaming mechanisms in my work. Is there a pre-existing platform like HabitRPG that I can use as a gamified framework supporting my work with teachers? Or do I need to create my own gamified platform? Is so, how? I am not a programmer and as a result I feel that I would be needing to bring together various online elements and applications to create a way to bring these gaming mechanisms to life. At this point I am leaning towards creating my own gaming platform through a collection of online applications and services. On this preliminary list of applications are Google Docs, Gmail, Tumblr, Storify and IFTTT. I would use our school board’s website host as the hub and then branch out from their to these other online services. But that is for another post… stay tuned.
Hume, K. (2007). Start where they are: Differentiating for success with the young adolescent. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc.
Hume, K. (2011). Tuned out: Engaging the 21st century learner. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Pearson Canada Inc.
McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken; Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York: The Penguin Press.