Gamification: The Bartle Test
In academia, “Gamification” is the (lately hyped) practice of applying game design to instructional design. The basic idea behind it is that well designed games motivate players to spend inordinate amounts of time learning the system of the game and boatloads of extra lives and respawns trying to beat/win/“game” the game. If one were to effectively align the artificial system of a game with the real-world process of learning a specific subject, perhaps students would be equally as motivated to learn as they are to study the 100,000 pages of content on the World of Warcraft wiki.
Class is already a game, of course. Generally speaking, most teachers know to scaffold the large “boss” challenges (tests, final papers, etc.) with smaller, “minion” challenges (quizzes, discussion, etc.) so that students have familiarized themselves with the tools they’ve been provided and the environment in which they’re working before they’re flung headlong into ultimate assessment. For the most part, educators understand implicitly the motivational nature of scoreboards (grades) and co-op missions (group learning). The promise of gamification is not that it represents a paradigm shift in education, but that it is a valuable lens for evaluating course design in light of student engagement.
The premise of the Bartle Test is that each player can be mapped onto a 2-dimensional, four-quadrant plane of gamer qualities. No one is entirely any one quality; rather, the qualities are given relative weights to indicate the strength of that quality in the person tested. The result could be exhibited visually like so:
The individual qualities are:
The Achiever in us feels fulfillment “beating” the game and, if extra content is available, “completing” it so that there is no gem left unclaimed nor item unfound.
Achiever students are fulfilled by completing assignments to the extent that they turn in extra credit even when extra credit will not improve their grades. Achievers may dislike purposefully ambiguous instructor expectations because achievers value the destination above the experience and would rather complete the assignment than wonder about it.
The Explorer in us is fulfilled by wandering for the sake of wandering. Beating the game on its own terms is a secondary priority to learning about it. Far more pleasurable than beating the game may be adding to its lore, learning more about it than the game’s creators, or even hacking it.
Explorer students are fulfilled by mapping unmapped regions of a subject. For an explorer, the experience is more important than the destination. Explorers may dislike assignments with guidelines that are too restrictive to allow for unique experiences or expressions.
The Socializer in us is fulfilled by social engagement, and plays games for the sake of being with other gamers.
Socializer students are fulfilled by cohort- and relationship-building. For socializers, the infrastructure of a course may function primarily as a setting for social interaction. Socializers may dislike assignments that do not have social components, and they may also dislike assignments with social components that pit them against other students.
The Killer in us is fulfilled by beating other gamers.
Killers are fulfilled by zero-sum achievement, wherein their “win” means that someone else “loses.” They are to be distinguished from Achievers in that abstract measurements of success, such as grades, may not count for as much as success achieved through direct competition. Killers may dislike assignments that don’t exercise their compulsion toward conflict and domination. Killers may respond to a shared “leaderboard” with increased desire to have the highest score; by contrast, Achievers may respond to a “personal best scoreboard” in which they are only in competition with themselves.
I took the Bartle Test, and my results are kind of what I’d expect them to be. I think a teacher, provided with the results of the test, might understand a little better what did and didn’t motivate me. Even without students’ results, however, the Bartle Test, and gamification in general, serves as a reminder that course design isn’t just about different styles of retention, but also different styles of motivation.
A note for those who want to take the Bartle Test: It uses some gamer lingo and is targeted specifically at people who play MMORPGs, but I found that I could replace its reference to video games with games that I’ve actually played, such as chess and softball, so that it didn’t feel like I was making up my answers.