World of Biblecraft

Chris Heard wrote recently about his effort to “gamify” a course he teaches. Here's a snippet:

Here’s the elevator pitch: My Religion 101 course, also known as “World of Biblecraft,” functions like a cross between Farmville, Minecraft, and the World of Warcraft, where students earn XP and level up by exploring the Bible.Students enter the World of Biblecraft as first-level Bible readers, called Joiners. As students complete various class-related activities, they earn experience points (XP). As they hit certain XP thresholds, students level up to the ranks of Initiate, Hopeful, Greenhorn, Fledgling, Enthusiast, Dilettante, Catechumen, Bibliophile, and perhaps even to the coveted rank of Acolyte. At the end of the semester, student’s level determines the letter grade I report to the registrar. (If you can’t figure out the conversion, you didn’t read this paragraph carefully enough.)

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  • Ian

    Hmmm… Though it was trendy a couple of years ago, this kind of ‘gamification’ (‘badgification’, or ‘pointification’, or BLAP gamification) that simply uses vocabulary and extrinsic tokens for motivation, is counter-productive []

    Meaningful gamification [] is much harder.

    Simply changing the vocab to make references to games is a bit transparent [] don’t you think? Strikes me as like when your dad tries to be hip and cool with your homeys, yo!

    • James F. McGrath

      There certainly is a risk of having the changes be more to the packaging than the substance, and for it to come across as a vain attempt by a professor to seem cool. However, since I know that Chris is a great lover of RPGs, I imagine that there will be elements of that woven in, and recall him talking about that previously.

      So I agree with you, and am interested in discussing and exploring the range of what meaningful gamification of a serious academic course on the Bible could look like.

      • Ian

        Definitely will be interesting to see if there’s any gamified learning, rather than gamey language and gamified reward framing. But things like

        Obviously, the harvests are basically reskinned reading assignments

        A few workshops (the Biblecraft term for class sessions

        The battles are essentially “post-tests” with questions in fixed-answer formats

        the course included two game elements that I would like to reinstate in some way …. The first is an achievement badge system…. The second is an in-game currency

        made it sound like it could be a case study for how not to implement gamification.

        So while interesting, it does read in a rather cringeworthy way, I’m afraid.

        There’s a cliche among folks involved with games. We’ve all had our ear chewed by some well meaning game-fan with some variant of “I have a great idea for a game: there’s this fantasy world, where instead of running around on foot, everyone flies on their own dragon, and as you battle increasingly difficult wizards, you level up your dragon, and then you can defeat the archmage.” The cliche being, the person has a) not described a single game mechanic, and b) is not aware that that is a problem.

        Actual game designers often work to strip out ‘gamey’ conventions, setting and framing from the game to really understand the motivators and mechanics. If a game works without all the framing, then it is a worthwhile game. It can be skinned and storied and framed in many ways, but the core gameplay either works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t work at its core, then it will be a tedious game dressed in the other stuff. This approach seems to totally miss the point of what game designers actually do, to me.

        I’m very happy to believe that Chris is a great guy and a big RPG fan, but from that piece, he sounds like he fundamentally misunderstands how the things he plays work. Sorry if that sounds unduly negative, and I’ll be very happy to eat my words if he can find some actual depth.

        • James F. McGrath

          You may be right – I have only a minimal acquaintance with Chris’s gamification work. But I do know him well enough to think that he would value your feedback, if you are willing to provide it, either by me directing him to your comments here, or by your leaving comments directly on his blog.

          • Ian

            Given my rather negative first impression, I’m slightly reluctant to parachute into his blog as a naysaying know-it-all!

            Chris’s commitment to communicating the subject, is impeccable. His brief foray into podcasting, are still on my ipod, four years on. So I certainly respect his work.

            So if there’s a way to be helpful without hitting the wrong tone, or overstepping my actual expertise (I know games, but have only indirect experience of meaningful gamification), or being counter-productive (because planning for the course is past the point where fundamental questions can be asked, say) I’m very happy to.

          • James F. McGrath

            I’ve drawn his attention to your comments here, and I think you may appreciate his more recent post on this topic:

          • Ian


          • Chris Heard

            Ian, please do cruise over to Higgaion and chime in there. Don’t worry about coming across as a “nay-saying know-it-all.” From my perspective, one should never turn down free consulting. And don’t worry about the development cycle for the course; remember that I get to release a new version once every semester.

            During the conversation, though, please do keep in mind the following: (a) The “World of Biblecraft” post is a snapshot of where things are now, not necessarily where I want them to stay. (b) The blog series is an exercise in thinking out loud, not an attempt at punditry. (c) I’m well aware that much of what I’ve done is still just reskinning at this point. On the other hand, I think future posts in the series will expose the degree to which game mechanics (perhaps thought through poorly, perhaps unsophisticated, but genuine) has driven some of the course design decisions, and how the needs of the educational process and the institutional constraints that come with that process push back against some common game mechanics.

            In short, please, by all means, join the conversation.

  • arcseconds

    I can certainly imagine this will engage some people. Some people may like it from the start, and others might get into the swing of things.

    However, doesn’t it run the risk of alienating many?

    For myself, I would be highly put off by this framing, and it would be enough for me to not take a course I was otherwise interested in. And I use to be pretty keen on computer games, and plenty of my friends still do. I appreciate that gaming’s much bigger now than it was when I was an undergraduate, but I don’t think interest in it is universal. I reckon there’ll be plenty of people interested in taking biblical studies classes who don’t play and don’t care about world of warcraft, etc.

    Imagine if you were really interested in a course, and then you found the instructor had ‘themed’ it and structured it around an activity that you didn’t care about, had nothing to do with the course, and perhaps even made you feel excluded? Perhaps, seeing as we all seem to be nerds here, imagine if they were mad keen on American Football or whatever the local impenetrable-to-the-uninitiated sport is. And the course was going to involve ‘selection’, ‘playoffs’, and ‘being a linebacker’, whatever they are.

    (Having said that, I can see Chris is trying to at least partly theme it not as a game so much as being ancient Israelites, which I’d probably like a bit more)

    Also, speaking for myself, I really don’t like being ‘incentivized’ to do things. It makes me feel like I’m being manipulated, and I hate being manipulated. If I’ve agreed to work under you, and you go and tell me to do X, then i’ll go and do it. If I’m interested in in X, or see it’s need, I’ll do it well. But as soon as you say “well, arcseconds, how about doing X? You don’t have to, but if you do, you get a red star! collect all three coloured stars and you get a gold star!” is a good way of making me surly and uncooperative.

    • Chris Heard

      At Pepperdine, Religion 101 is a required course for undergraduates, and the first in a three-course sequence that must be taken in order; additionally, first-semester students’ schedules are pre-set by the admissions counselors and do not afford much flexibility. This creates a certain amount of resistance to the course from the start, as with most required classes. Many students bear, to varying degrees, a bit of resentment against any required course, even if they would have taken it voluntarily anyway. In my experience, students have responded well to the theme. Almost all of my students these days play some type of recurring game, whether it’s Farmville or Words with Friends or what have you. In fact, the use of agricultural (“Harvest”), construction (“Workshop”), and warfare (“Battle”) as the three different major activities in the class is a conscious choice to connect with different tastes.

      And yes, a big part of my motivation is to try to increase a sense of immersion in ancient Israelite culture, though I have a long way to go to succeed.

      Anyway, I invite you over to Higgaion to read the whole series (the Biblecraft post by itself doesn’t give you the whole picture), which is still ongoing.