bored-studentIncredibly, the time will arrive when some of your students are not interested in playing the game you’ve spent so much time developing.  All the work you’ve done with your leaderboard, scaffolding, graphics, and engaging activities simply fail to catch them.  What to do at this moment really depends a lot on the students themselves.  You’ll know your students better than anyone and will likely have a better feel for just what might re-engage them than I ever could.  But here are a few suggestions I’ve used when this has developed in my classes.

Inject more story

One technique I use is to add more story element to the class.  Earlier this semester, I felt engagement was starting to slip.  After class, I grabbed a willing accomplice from my colleagues and recorded a quick video introducing the next section of our course game.  We framed that one as a plea from the character for help.  Hints were dropped about the student’s growing fame in our game world as well as the dangers of the quest he was describing.  It took us about 45 minutes to put together a 2 minute video.

First thing in the next class, I played the video for the students.  They re-engaged right away and were discussing the video for the next 2-3 class periods as they worked through the materials related to that section.

Add, or reveal, an easter egg

When you’re building your game, try to include an easter egg (or several).  These hidden areas/quests/jokes/etc can be extra content that isn’t within your usual sequence but is relevant, or it can be entertainment only.  When interest in the game is flagging, you may be able to re-engage students simply by dropping hints.  During the use of your game (ie: over the course of the semester/year) if you notice a section in which interest is commonly flagging, you can build in an easter egg there, specifically for use in re-engaging the students.  (I’ll be doing this next year in one section of my content that is over-long.)

Use a change-of-pace mini-game

I wrote about my recent use of this technique last time. Build a mini-game or two based on your content, that are non-sequence specific (ie: that relate to your content but can be used any time during your course; the sort of stuff you might build for an emergency substitute).  Add in a story-appropriate wrapping.  In my case, for my pseudo-medieval world of Gnimmargorp, in which my students are studying programming, I built a couple of algorithm related exercises.  Then I wrote a narrative about a dragon picking them up and dragging them off to his lair and the adventures they had there (all around solving the algorithm exercises).  This sort of change of pace can be highly invigorating for student interest.

Make comments about the leaderboard, badges, accomplishments, etc.

A simple comment showing you noticed someone’s score advancing, badge earned, or quest finished can often help bolster their interest, especially if it’s framed within your story/world.  If your world is semi-medieval, use old fashioned language; if it’s semi-military, use military-speak; and so on.  The flavor of the comment can help re-engage students in the story of the game.

Show your interest

Make it undeniably clear that you are interested in the subject and the game, regardless of what the students do or express.  This is called the Lonely Dancer effect.  Here’s a great video about it (you may have seen this already, it’s apparently been on the rounds more than once before.)

I hope this helps, next time you notice the beginnings of a loss of interest in your game.  What other tips do you have for re-engaging interest?  I’d love to know.

[This post was inspired by Victor Manrique’s similar post over at EpicWin]