Gaming a Writing Assignment

I’ve heard about gaming and education for awhile now, but it wasn’t until Peter Kittle‘s presentation at the CWP CATE Pre-Conference yesterday that I clearly understood how I could use gaming to promote learning. Peter said four words that made everything suddenly clear: quests, experience points, badges. Those four words made me want to completely overhaul my syllabus for digital writing mid-semester. As I drove home from Santa Clara last night, I kept thinking about how I could use this concept thoughtfully in my class.

In this class, we’ll be reading a text, Ernest Cline‘s Ready Player One, in which gaming drives the plot. The text presents a dystopian future in which most human beings participate in a virtual world that is more satisfying than their “real” existence. This world involves a quest that will result in one person inheriting incredible wealth from the game’s designer. As the main character participates in this quest, his experience and knowledge of 80’s-era video games comes into play–and he must master a number of tasks, the successful completion of which allow him to advance another level. The ideas of quests, badges, and experience points are embedded in the novel.

What I’m thinking is that I’ll design the writing assignment that goes along with this novel to parallel the gaming experience. Students will go on a quest to create a digital work (trailer, podcast, or digital story) that will reflect their understanding of Ready Player One. They will gain badges by illustrating their knowledge of 80’s pop culture, gaming, the writing process, and the like. And they can gain experience points by producing their own texts with wordle, animoto, glogster, etc. The most points will come from achieving the ultimate quest (the trailer, podcast, or digital story) using what they’ve learned from both the pursuit of badges and experience points.

What I like about using gaming in connection with writing instruction is the possibility of encouraging experimentation. Over the years, I’ve come to want my students to learn behaviors and strategies in relation to writing. Yet many students default to what they know will get a good grade instead of trying something new, a decision I totally understand since my grading practices privilege the final product. By using gaming principles, I can demonstrate that I value both experimentation and mastery since the badges I’ll use will differentiate between basic and more advanced competence. Unless I figure out another way to do this, I’ll use Edmodo for the assignment which will support a quests, experience points, badges system.

Game on.


  1. Peter Kittle

    It’s so funny–we’re reading Ready Player One in my class this semester, too, Kathee. I had the same thought about it being a nice gateway to the gamified syllabus. I’m excited to hear how it turns out.

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