Gamed.

(We shall return to some other posts on writing, writing workshop, etc. soon.)

I have a guilty…well, wouldn’t exactly call it ‘pleasure’…past time, hobby, compulsive process addition, and play a Blizzard game called Hearthstone. It’s a card game based on the archetypal characters in World of Warcraft. It is a value-added app, meaning it’s ‘free’ to those who subscribe to WoW, I think. Maybe. Maybe it’s a a free app. Okay, it is. Yeah. And it makes money from micro-transactions of buying card packs, but one can also earn points and trade those points in for cards, disenchant them, and add to deck sets. I’ve been playing it longer than I care to admit; oftentimes while watching TV, etc.

And I never get any better.

Ranked Level 17 is about as good as I get.

In truth, I hate this game. And yet because I am a process addict, I struggle to stop playing. Process addictions are different from chemical ones–they include gambling, gaming, food (which I think is a chemical one), etc. The reasons for my self-loathing and repugnance of this game strike me as perhaps why many students also feel self-loathing and hatred toward their school days. The power/odds resides in the house, and the house always cheats:

  • The cycle is a month: from the 1st to the 30/31 you build up your rank. If you fall down a rank, and it’s on the last day of the month, you start off at a lower rank on the 1st. For example, I ended at Rank 17 this month, and I started at Rank 21 today.
  • If you lose a game, you lose a star. You have three stars per rank. If you have a winning streak, you can bump to the next level. If you lose a single game, you can get bumped down to the lower level.
  • You can build your decks, study strategies, but have no control how to organize the cards you receive, except like poker, throw away three and get three replacements.
  • If you play a “dungeon run” if you lose one game you have to start all over again. Looking at you, Rastakhan’s Rumble.
  • There are daily quests, and if you lose those games, your ranking goes down.
I’m not really a good sport. My Avatar is, though.

At the beginning of every game, I immediately “squelch” the opposing player. I don’t want to hear the taunts, jeers, or smarmy “Well Played!” How do I know it’s smarmy? I just do.

Ah, what if we could mute naysayers and mean people?

The parallels with how students might feel during their year in the classroom: it never feels like one is ‘moving up’ and it’s three stars forward and four stars back. A loss is not simply a ‘learn and growth mindset’ fix, because the system is rigged. Even if I studied strategies, the cards fall where they will, and I don’t receive any benefit or boost from my study of skills and strategies. I’m surprised if I make it to Level 17. With each character/avatar, if you win 500 games you receive a golden portrait. Whoop-dee-doo. So like many things in school: all show, no substance.

If students could identify this same feeling, this Sisyphean futility of grinding away at something that doesn’t progress or feel satisfying, is this what they perceive when we teachers tell them they should be life long learners? Maybe I’m writing this post too soon, because I haven’t quite figured out my thesis: perhaps just to focus and find a way for students next year to acknowledge their experiences and how they feel the system has been rigged against their growth, success, and defining what ‘winning’ is for them:

And this cannot, must not, be ignored: call out any teacher who uses gamification for harm:

The truth is I don’t want to put any more energy or study into progressing up the ranks in that stupid game. Maybe that’s how students feel, too, when they walk into a new school year. And when I think about how I structure and support my students, will give more notice to the impact of their days. Are they starting the day already defeated? Hopeless? Finding and defining what is important to me and my beliefs is as human as it gets–and definitely use Trevor Aleo’s ideas about content/curriculum – find our ikigai.

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