Getting Serious About Games: Part 2- Experience Points (XP)

“Our experience is coloured through and through by books and plays and the cinema, and it takes patience and skill to disentangle the things we have really learned from life for ourselves.”
C.S. Lewis

The use of experience points is one of the key elements of any great game. David Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, is first credited with the implementation of experience points. In tinkering with the gameplay, he found the players having so much fun, that they didn’t want to leave the characters they had built, and wanted to move that character from storyline to storyline, to watch him/her continue to develop. With this, the experience point system was created. Characters would earn experience points based on their success from game to game. After a certain number of points, a character would “level up.”

When I first set out to design my gamified class, I met with a gamification guru to help shed some light on experience points in education. I’ll never forget his response: “I never understood why we start students with a hundred. Starting them with a hundred is saying they already have the skills necessary to move on.” Great point… and one that I pondered over for quite some time.

All of the big name games follow this idea of an experience point system. Anything from Pac-Man to Call of Duty has used the progression of points to keep the player coming back. Games today have become so robust, that these points help the character (err player) grow over the course of the plot. In the end, you spend those points in exchange for powers, abilities, character upgrades, or equipment.

So I ditched my traditional total point grading system and went completely XP oriented. This is the foundation to any gamified class. If you are already using a total points system, this won’t be too difficult to implement. It follows the same method; the only difference being students start with zero (signifying that they do not yet have any content knowledge or skills necessary to move on). This has done two things in my class: 1) it has cut down anxiety and fear of grades and 2) it forces students to PROVE that they have the necessary skills before moving on. What is also easy to do is transitioning these grades back to your school’s gradebook. Since it is still a total points system, dividing the points they earned by the total amount of experience points available will reveal the student’s percentage grade.

So it became all about the XP in my class. From level to level (unit to unit) students’ experience points grew, and they continued on past the current level they were on. This way, students were able to see their progress over the entire course of the year. Students earned XP by completing assignments. Once they got the XP there was no way for them to lose them. Students were able to visualize their progress and in conjunction with the leaderboard, became motivated to do better each level. I call my assignments quests ( you know, to go with the whole game thing I’m doing). They were broken up as shown below:

questpoints

Each regular assignment type was transitioned to a more “gamified” title. Credit Philip Vonogradov for the quest format. He created the model I so dearly have grown accustomed to. Quest stands for: question, understand, explore, synthesis, test. In this model, students are at the helm, posing questions, then spending the time researching and answering those questions until they can prove it via a “test” of some sort.

Food for thought. When created an XP system, go with big numbers. The bigger the better. At first, I used the same point system I previously used, just adding an “xp” to the end. But students felt this was too much of the same. So I changed it up. 100 point assignments became 1000xp, 50 point assignments became 500xp, and so forth. Students loved the change. This made it feel more like a game, and EPIC. EPIC= cool! When teamed up with AP (achievement points) students really get the game going. I will talk about AP at a later time.

XP helps establish the foundation for a gamified class. When partnered with a leaderboard and achievement points, the well-rounded gamified class is born. This, in essence, builds a more positive learning experience. One where students don’t “fear the grade”.

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