Friday, August 28, 2015

I guess I'm an Explorer: Bartle's Player Taxonomy Applied to the CS222 Achievement System

I had a student come to office hours this week with many questions, some of which were about the achievement system I am using in CS222. I had explained on the first day of class that the achievements were inspired by trends in video games. Achievements give a student a way to be recognized for doing something special, for doing something they might not otherwise do that is relevant to the course. As of this writing, I have 25 available achievements for the course, including technical, research, community engagement, and social options. A student who seeks an "A" grade will probably complete five or six.

The student in my office acknowledged the video game inspiration, and then he asked, "So I should try to get all of the achievements?" I was a bit surprised at this, but he explained that he is a completionist: he sees achievements as an incentive from game designers to have players try all the different options, and that to have "the full experience" one needs to get all the achievements. I responded that my intention was not to encourage a complete collection, but rather to incentivize diverse behaviors that were worthy of class credit.

He looked a bit puzzled, so I asked if he was familiar with Richard Bartle's Player Taxonomy. He wasn't, so I gave a little background about MUD and then explained some of the types. I told him that the behavior he described was characteristic of an Achiever, but that another type is Explorer, who seek out all the edges of the system...

And he interrupted me, saying, "Oh, so you must be an Explorer."

I paused, a bit dumbfounded. I had never really thought about it before. I'm sure the question, "What type am I?" had passed through my mind when thinking about the taxonomy, but I certainly didn't have a pat answer. As I thought about the design of the achievement system, I got to thinking about my own behavior as a player. I like to go to all the places and see what's there: I don't have to do all the quests, but I like knowing what they are. So, I told him, it would seem that my behavior is indeed characteristic of an Explore. Look at Bartle's original articulation of an Explorer: "Explorers are proud of their knowledge of the game's finer points, especially if new players treat them as founts of all knowledge." Does that sound like any professors you know?

The more I think about this story, it helps me see how Bartle's taxonomy might be useful for thinking about achievements or digital badges. Socializers are easy: I have achievements that connect my students to other students, alumni, and visitors. I think Achievers are just happy to have a system through which they can gain course credit and get an "A". Explorers have the opportunity to seek out specialized knowledge, in design patterns or build systems for example. As for Killers, I'm not sure how they fit in. At first I thought this was the category for students who argue and complain about the system itself, but I don't think that's quite right. Bartle explains their motivation as, "Killers are proud of their reputation and of their oft-practiced fighting skills." These might actually be my cowboy programmers, the ones who are more interested in showing off what they can hammer out themselves  rather than learning new techniques or working on a team.

What do you think: if you compare your player type and your behaviors in school, do you see similar behaviors?

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