In creating World of Classcraft, a not-so-subtle nod to the world’s most popular online role-playing game, Quebec-based physics teacher Shawn Young has turned the everyday interactions of his classroom into a quest to gain special powers and avoid death.
In a manner similar to other role-playing games, students assume a class—in this case a Mage, a Warrior, or a Healer—that each boasts specific abilities. Working in teams of roughly six to eight students, Young said each student aspires to gain experience points related to positive classroom interactions, and avoid losing hit points for negative activities.
For example, students get 50 experience points for finding a mistake in class notes; 60 points for answering a classroom question correctly; and 100 experience points for good attitude and participation throughout class.
Alternately, students get -10 hit points for arriving late to class and arguing with the game master (teacher) and -30 points for not fishing homework.
Gain 1000 hit points, and a student wins a power point that can be traded for certain powers. The more power points a student gains, the better power he or she can purchase. For example, a Mage can purchase the right to be two minutes late to class for just 10 power points. For 40 power points, he or she can get a hint for the entire team on an exam question. The powers available, and how many points they’re worth, vary depending on which class a student chooses to assume.
Lose all of your hit points, and you succumb to a roll of the death die. It can land on several outcomes that have to be honored, including having less time than the rest of a class to work on a paper, a visit to Saturday morning detention, or having to hand-copy a portion of a text.
Young, an experienced role-playing gamer himself, created the game after a suggestion from a few role-playing students, and consulted several students to help conceive the possible rewards and drawbacks from participation. He implemented the game last spring—students are not forced to participate, but once they agree to participate, they’re not allowed to quit simply to avoid negative consequences. So far, of his 100 students during two years of implementing the game, roughly 90 percent have chosen to participate, he said.
Despite the reputation of role-playing games being a male-dominated past-time, Young says he’s seen equal gender participation.
“It’s surprising because of the theme, but not so surprising because the powers are really good,” he said. “The incentive is strong enough.”
Young also noted that the game is created so that, although students in each class are divided into teams, they are not competing against each other, since part of the aim of the game is to foster classroom collaboration.
While Young has built an online engine to calculate points and keep track of students’ progress, the game does not require students to have consistent computer access, nor does it directly measure students’ content mastery.
“It’s an extra layer on top of the class,” said Young, who also works as a Web developer in addition to his role teaching at Seminaire Salesien in Sherbrooke, Quebec. “It’s unrelated to the curriculum. It’s more around defining the classroom experience.”
Thanks to interest that developed partly after the game was featured on Reddit, Young has launched a Kickstarter online fundraising campaign to create a Web-based version of the game that can be accessed by students and teachers worldwide.
The goal for the drive is $75,000. Funds generated from it will go toward expenses, Young said, including hiring artists to make the game more visually appealing, creating a user interface that allows teachers to customize the game for their class without knowledge of software coding, and building capacity to host several thousands of users at one time.
If the drive reaches the goal, the game could be available to the general public as early as the late fall, Young said. If not, he said he still hopes other teachers will build upon the idea.
“It’s been a lot of fun, just genuine fun, and the impact in the classroom has been really, really positive,” Young said. “If this Kickstarter (drive) doesn’t work, people should still look at games for education. We’re at the beginning of that, and it’s an exciting time to start working on that. But we need to push that vision out there.”