Games only work as games when they have certain mandatory qualities. They have to have an understandable objective (even if it’s as simple as “eat pixels and avoid ghosts”). This objective must be achievable, but not too easily achieved. Attempting to achieve the objective must be pleasurable in some way. It must induce in the player a sense of striving or reaching – that quality one gets when one passes through his or her current ability to execute game content and finds oneself on the other side…in a level that is well beyond one’s ability. The gamer understands the objective, but also understands that, at least now, it’s not clear that they can achieve it anymore. Games must have a fail state from which the gamer can emerge with more knowledge, wisdom and, ideally, a greater capacity to overcome the challenge that created the fail state in the first place. Would a board game still be a board game if, upon losing, it vanished through a dimensional portal and you could never try it again? A game isn’t a game if you can’t fail or lose and then have another go. This is true in the most basic children’s games; complex board games, athletics, basic video games and complex massively multiplayer online games. It should be true in education. Some of my favorite games have really bone-basic rules, are fiendishly difficult to win (I name you – Acquire!) but also reward the player who loses who afterwards learns from the experience. This should also be true about education. Even games where there is no ending (I name you – World of Warcraft!) and therefore, have no objective way to win, have to create within their structure these fail states or they wouldn’t function as games. These fail states are called bosses.
In many games with clearly stated objectives but no defined win state, player satisfaction derives primarily from overcoming boss encounters. Boss encounters are also used in many games to establish the final obstacle to total victory. Defeating these encounters is euphoric for most gamers…the opposite of the epic fail…the epic win. They go back decades in the history of game design. The justly famous Ultima IV was known for its character development complexity and morality-based gameplay but also for its final boss encounter (to gain the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom). In contemporary games, boss encounters are used to create particularly difficult or memorable challenges generally requiring either the use of teamwork to succeed or the possession of specialized knowledge or skill to succeed.
In my class, the boss encounter is a major design element in the knowledge tree. Every level ending in zero will be a boss encounter. I want to encourage students to build learning teams and to use them to “defeat” these boss encounters and, in so doing, synthesize learning, apply it meaningfully to other problems, work authentically to engage real world concerns, learn to work together effectively and have some fun while doing it. Because the gamified classroom is founded on the notion of intrinsic reward, I hope to create boss encounters for students that will do everything I stated above while being seen as rich and meaningful and worth solving.
The level 10 boss for the culture branch reads: Contrast the different concerns / foci / approaches / obsessions/ anxieties expressed by transformative and mainstream culture. What is common between them? What’s different? What is the transformative trying to transform? What is the mainstream trying to preserve? The level 10 boss for the technology branch reads: How much influence does technology that predates 1970 have in your daily life? Cite specific examples and demonstrate how your life would be diminished without these technologies. What technologies that predate 1970 no longer have a role in your daily life? These questions are radically more complex than levels 1-9, are based on the work students do in levels 1-9, will have a direct impact on how successful they are with levels 11-100 and ask students to integrate and synthesize.
Next time, I will share the 6 level 100 final boss encounters.