13 November 2009

Quitting the game

Yesterday, I talked about why an instructor should care about whether students come to class. Yesterday was also the deadline for students to drop classes, which is another reason instructors should care whether students come to class or not: not coming is a warning sign that people are just going to give up.

Like so many aspects of teaching (see here, here, and here) there are important parallels with gaming. This article talks about people who don’t finish video games, and there is so much to think about in terms of teaching. For instance, replace “player” with “student” and see how it reads:

Keeping players motivated is difficult. ... The goal is to strike the right balance between difficulty and player ability, thereby always keeping the player within arm's reach of a new achievement.

Despite these attempts to balance difficulty for a wide range of people, the players will still experience failure. More importantly, many of these folks will stop playing because of these failures. It’s rare for people to leave a restaurant because they don’t like the food, and it’s not too common for people to walk out of a movie because it's bad &ndash but game players do put down the controller and leave the game all the time.

I’m not a die hard video gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but I have finished some fairly length video games, and there are a few differences between those I’ve finished, and those I haven’t finished yet.

Sudden ramp up: You’re playing the game, and then suddenly, it gets harder. Way harder. You have not opportunity to practice the skills you need to continue. If you’ve been playing a game and you need two or three tries to complete a level, then suddenly you hit a level where you’ve had at it eight times and feel no nearer success. Teaching lesson: Increase difficulty gradually.

Guides and hints: You hit a puzzle or task that is necessary to progress in the game, and you just get stuck. I loved the video game Okami because you had a guide who gave you hints. You were always pretty clear on what the task was. Teaching lesson: Give people clear goals, and give them feedback before they attempt high-stakes tasks.

Bad save points: Pointlessly replaying what you can do just to get to what you can’t do. In de Blob, to get to the final boss battle (which also has the ramp up problem), I have to start the entire level from the beginning, and it feels like it takes forever. Teaching lesson: Don’t make people keep re-proving themselves.

Also consider what both gamers and students are tempted to do when they get stuck: go online and get a walkthrough or a cheat code.

1 comment:

BunchberryFern said...

Totally agree with you here.

Sudden ramp-ups in games happens all too often. I finished 70% of Half-Life and walked away because of a stupidly far back save point.

I've noticed the ramp-up problem in tech tutorials and computer programming books in particular - it's 'hello world' to gobbledegook in 2 chapters.

Two other things I've noticed:
Although ramp-up is a killer, it's equally stultifying to have linear progression - as monopoly illustrates perfectly. Victory in monopoly is painfully protracted.

Games that have buckets of tutorials but allow you to achieve nothing are poison. The bottom of the ramp should feel rewarding too.