Grinding in Game Design
If you believe gamification continues to be a suitable engagement strategy for your learning experience, I must warn of one other significant disaster that plagues game design still today.
Gamers call this debacle, “grinding.”
This isn’t like the “daily grind” you may experience with your job – although it may feel the same. It’ isn't the same kind of “grind” athletes insistently refer to when they choose to “embrace" it. Then again, it may feel like that too.
Actually “grinding,” in the gaming world, is an infinite endeavor to continually improve your character by repeating the same or similar tasks over, and over, and over, and over again. My most severe experience of grinding was playing the PC multiplayer role playing game Diablo II, in which other players and I would conquer only certain areas of levels repetitively, maximizing the amount of experience points we could collect in the shortest amount of time (these were to referred to as “runs”).
Grinding is not something that game developers design into their games. Actually, it is perhaps the exact opposite. They would prefer you engage the game in its immersive story and intricate gameplay. However, players can eventually discover opportunities to exploit a design flaw and bastardize the game.
The same goes for people who want to implement gamification into their learning experiences. Students may eventually discover a way to exploit the system.
Game developers try to develop ways to prevent grinding. Some purposefully do not as it can become a bit of an addiction for players who will serve as repeat customers. But, for a meaningful learning experience, you should also eliminate chances for grinding.
If you have integrated gamification in a way that students are able to perform the same or similar tasks over and over again to horde points toward their final grade, like for example, worksheets, or papers, make sure you construct barriers so students cannot repeat.
You can do this by limiting the amount of work your students can repeat, but then again, why limit students’ learning? Instead develop a meaningful pathway, or an endgame.
Some endgames are more effective than others, but they can all be used well enough to create variety in your learning experience. These endgames can include:
Limited Time – Maybe certain assignments can only be performed in a certain timespan, whether in a month, a week, or even a day. These types of tasks could inject a fun sense of urgency.
Achievements – Be sure to include levels or badges. When learners perform enough of a certain task, they level-up, or earn a badge, where they cannot repeat their previous tasks again, and can only advance to the next.
Personal Goals – Following a more interest-driven route, ask learners to formulate some personal goals so they may challenge themselves, strive to achieve, and grow. Now their focus is on their goal and growth, rather than accumulating points to pass.
Larger Challenges – Perhaps their tasks may be aimed toward helping greater good, instead of just earning a grade. See if their assignment helps the school, their community, a volunteer group, or a non-profit organization. Can their project serve a movement their interested in? Now your gamification strategy includes civic duty and your learners are aware of something bigger than points and levels.
Real-World Use - Ultimately, the endgame of your gamified learning experience should be real-world application of the new knowledge. While accumulating points, levels, and what-not, finally the learner should be able to use the knowledge in a relevant problem. The gamification was a means to create some additional fun to the experience.
The methodologies explained here should not be anything new to any educator - simply the terminology is geared toward game design and gamification. The notion of an endgame blocking potential grinding, and re-focusing your learners’ attention elsewhere is a typical method for alleviating the emphasis on grades, and placing more on ways to scaffold knowledge, present relevancy, and serve a greater good. The story is the same, only the names have changed.