Game designers do something similar. In essence, games ask players to do meaningless, repetitive, difficult tasks and then punishes them when they fail. (Yes, I am talking about Flappy Bird) What keeps us playing? Part of the reward of games is the triumph of beating a level, boss, or high score. However, many games also make use of a compelling storyline to keep players engaged.
This means that often players must finish a combat sequence or two before finding out what happens next in the story. The game is also interesting in that it has difficult combat sequences that don’t always reward you with special equipment or perks after successful completion. Instead of tangible, in-game benefits, the rewards players are seeking lie within the storyline. In essence, the story is the reward.
What if, rather than rewarding students with meaningless badges or points, we rewarded them with a compelling narrative? Talented educators for years have harnessed that “what happens next?” feeling to enhance student motivation and engagement, but it’s sadly left out of discussions of “gamification.” Additionally, when a narrative contextualizes educational tasks, it can help make those tasks less onerous and more meaningful. A realistic narrative can answer the inevitable “Why do we need to know this?” questions, because the rationale lies within the story.
Sadly, I believe that the reason why it’s so difficult to implement this idea in schools is because we have so successfully divorced learning from context. Students graduate high school thinking biology is all about memorization and physics is just another math class in disguise. (No wonder we have trouble getting students interested in STEM subjects!) We need to show students how their decisions exist within a larger and more meaningful context than just passing a test. Let’s harness the power of a good story!