Why was I was so interested story. Well, as I quickly learned, this topic appears to be quite controversial in the realm of Gamification. Based on my readings, there seems to be 2 main, yet very different, view points on this - it is required & it is not required. So why the controversy?
The first camp says you need a story for a proper gamification. Why? Their argument is simple and quite clear. When we play a game we love all the elements that come with it like earning items and upgrades and defeating enemies but what really captures our attention, sometimes whether we know it or not, is the storyline. We develop personal bonds with the characters and want to help them succeed. We become immersed in the environment and the surroundings and our mind escapes into the fictitious world. We grow to dislike the enemy and rivals and want to eliminate them before they can "cause us harm". We want to go deeper into the story itself to find out more about the characters and more about the world they live in and why what happened has happened. In essence, the story is really what drives the player of the game to come back and push forward.
The second camp views story as the opposite - unnecessary. They view the story as something more and more players are not focused on. They are almost oblivious to it as they progress and are playing simply to gain more points, items or experience. They believe most players tend to skip the cut-scenes where the real story develops and know they are going to move forward regardless of knowing the depth of the story. In essence, people put forth a lot of effort towards writing their story when many players these days do not take the time to ever pay attention to it. More time should be put into the items, game play, etc...
So after reading about both sides I had to make a decision; do I want a storyline for this Gamification or do I want to skip it?
That was an easy one for me. Storyline please! I'm totally in the camp battling for the importance of a storyline in a successful gamification. Why? To me it is simple, the story is the immersive part of the gamification. My experience in the classroom tells me that when kids are connected to something they will push themselves more towards trying to help/answer/inquire/etc... If I could create a storyline that could grab their attention and tailor my game around it (the items, badges, mini-games, etc) I could grab them hook, line and sinker and getting more out of them would be far easier.
So with that decision made I had to sit down and come up with a storyline. How did I do it?
Well, first off I can tell you there is not a whole lot about the topic and that is fine because this whole process is pretty new in the world of education. So I had to come up with some strategies of my own. Here are some tips, from me, on pulling off a successful gamification narrative!
(Please keep in mind these are just brief notes and I could provide more details if you request)
1) Choose a theme
The theme of your game is going to drive your development of it. If you know you want an exotic feel or a futuristic, alien world theme you will be able to build everything from that starting point. It is often difficult for someone to pick a theme based solely on the course you are gamifying while others can be very easy. For example, gamifying a social studies class where your main focus is the war of 1812 or a civil rights battle - an old war theme fits the bill. The connection is clear and easy and kids would not have a had time making the connection themselves. My grade 8 science program though falls under no main theme as it covers properties of matter, light, earth and a variety of other topics all from different eras of time. So faced with this what did I do?
2) Examine your curriculum/content
So with no major underlying theme to my course I decided to break down my course to see what elements I could find. First, I knew I had 5 different Units and each unit requires approximately 2 months to cover. So I had 5, 2 month slots. Second, I knew that the 5 topics differed greatly in their major ideas however I also could see that they had an underlying running theme. Third, my course culminates in a final exam worth 10% of their grade and covers all 5 Units. Now the gears were turning and I was beginning to see something.
3) Examine what you know about games you love
As I grew up, I knew there was a certain type of game that always grabbed my attention - the role playing game (RPG). You started with next to nothing, battling basic enemies knowing that you were on your way towards a bigger goal. Now essentially that is what all courses are designed to be. You start with basics and you scaffold towards deeper and more complex materials. Also, there are different levels and bosses along the way, each providing you with something that makes the journey easier. Could I blend them?
You could easily do the same here with a sports themed game, an action/adventure game, a puzzle based game and the list goes on. Once you theme it and can make those connections it is really only limited by your creativity.
4) Connect the dots
Looking at the basic behind an RPG, I figured I could connect it to my science program. The ultimate goal would be to slay the final monster (the final exam) and you would defeat this henchmen along the way (the 5 topic finals). That was a smooth connection so with a chicken scratch story line I needed an environment. I looked at the 5 unit names and they were too bland - that is until I remembered something interesting from university...
5) Develop an environment
...I remembered we had to always learn the root and stem words for medical/anatomical terms and they usually derived from Latin. Enter a translator. I popped some words into an online translator and before I knew it my world had a name Scientia Terra ("Science Land" in Latin - how much cooler does that sound). Now with a land that had an old, medieval style I knew I would be doing an old school, almost medieval time period gamification. I quickly played around with the other 5 units and my world was taking shape. Learn more about the world by clicking here!
6) Tie up the loose ends
Now that I had a major theme and major areas (I even developed a map from one I found online and using online map making software made it it interactive with the help of Flash). I picked out the key concepts of each Unit and developed a final boss for each level, story about each different land, as well as the main boss of the game. To be truthful here this website template had a generic minotaur character in its header image and that is exactly where the idea came from for the Minotaur King.
7) Put a bow on it
I then realized I had to tie it all together. I took an easy way out with a more generic storyline of the discovery of something that everyone wanted and the imprisonment of the people of the land. This left me with an easy transition into the beginning of the game. Remember, creativity here is key and how you address this with your kids really sets the tone for the year. For example...
Day 1 of science used to be...
"Welcome to grade 8 Science. Your 5 Units are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and you have a final at the end of the year. Hopefully we can have a good time this year. Question?"
(This is just a Cole's Notes version of what I really read but I think you get the idea!)
"You are a band of heroes sent forth to defeat the Minotaur King and his evil generals who have taken the land hostage. The journey will be a long and hard one but with teamwork and perseverance you will succeed. You will acquire exotic and rare items, form everlasting bonds with fellow players and face evil creatures on a daily basis. Will you be the hero this land deserves?"
Which course do you want to attend?
I'll wrap up here for now but I'll call this Part 1. Part 2 will feature why I decided to take this even deeper and invite the students to fully immerse themselves in the land by creating and assuming a whole new identity!
Hope this has been helpful!
More to come...