Friday, January 27, 2017

Experiencing Gamification through Minecraft

It's been many months since I've blogged here but I've been having the itch to get back to it.

EVO Minecraft MOOC has taken on dimensions that are eye-opening as far as revealing what gamification is and what it does.

We start here with an anecdote. I just left the world of Minecraft (having succumbed to spiders in the dark in the wild tiaga), but the journey was incredible.

I had logged on to the server two hours earlier. I arrived at the place I had left the night before, the one at the end of this video.

I pressed TAB to see who was in-world with me. Maha was there as well as Jane and Mattie. Maha is from Egypt, and Jane is Mattie's mother. She and Mattie are from Taiwan. They play with us frequently.

I asked where everyone was and mentioned I was at the village that Dakota had walled off to protect its citizens from mobs (explosive creepers and mindlessly lethal zombies that attack the villagers at night). In return for his protection, the villagers allowed him to trade with him. He was raising sugar cane at a farm inside the village and from cane you can make paper. Many of the villagers were librarians and would exchange emeralds for paper. So the village was a source of emeralds, which could be used to obtain other valuable objects which other villagers might have in exchange for the emeralds.

Jane said that she and Mattie would like to see the village. We had all got there the night before by using the warp command. Warp lets you appear at a designated point but when you get there by magic you don't know where you are in relation to where you have been, and I couldn't remember the exact warp word, except that it had two capital letters (but it's in the video above, somewhere). Maha, elsewhere on the server, was reading our texts and told us what the command was, so Maggie used it to teleport to where she thought I was.

We later found that Maha had looked up the destination from a /warplist on the server and had given Jane the wrong destination. On arrival at her new destination, Jane said she was at Rose's house there, but there was no Rose's house where I was. So I decided to warp myself to her location and there we both were.

Rose appeared coincidentally online just then and she quickly figured out that we had warped to her old house on the server space we had developed the year before. She joined us and we started looking around. For Jane it was a brand new world. For me, it was nostalgic to visit places from last year, still intact, though it took me a few minutes to re-orient.

Rose didn't want to remain there because she thought we should be focused on developing the world from this year's rendition of EVOMC17, so she suggested we warp back to our world. I asked if we could just head that way, and in which direction. Rose said it was far away, but she offered to lead us there.

There was a rail system connecting the two worlds beknownst only to few on our server. It emanated from stations in the old world that had been built the previous year, but to use it we needed to have mine carts. We found that among us, only Mattie had enough iron ore to craft them, so with his resources we quickly came up with the carts. What followed was an amazing ride south and east that I'm going to video one of these days.

I'll put that video here.

Regarding gamification, this was it. Rose had to explain to Jane and Mattie how to operate the carts. Their behavior is such that if someone stops on the tracks the next cart back hits it and then reverses out of control. There is no control because the system is powered by redstone to propel the carts forward, or if they strike another cart, backwards, with no brakes until you reach a station. One problem is that as we came to stations on our way forward we didn't know at first to hold down the W key to avoid stopping, so we'd reach one and stop there. Then the next cart to appear from behind hit the cart that had stopped there, and then headed backwards, hitting the cart behind it, and when the next cart appeared, chaos ensued, and so on,as we lurched backward and forwards along the first stretches of track. 

When we managed to all come to a stop (each of us out of sight of the others) and coordinate a way forward, we reached a part of the journey where there were no stations, but barriers which would stop the carts literally in their tracks, but if another cart came along, it would plow into any cart still on the tracks and reverse. So we had to get out of our carts and destroy them quickly before the next cart arrived, to prevent the boomerang effect (destoying an object makes it available for retrieval, which is how we could then collect and reuse the carts to continue our journey).

So these carts had to be collected and replaced on the track on the opposite side of the barrier as follows. You needed two carts. You put one on the redstone rail on the track. You put another on a rail mechanism above so that it would fall inside the first cart, so you have two carts nestled one inside the other. You then get into the cart and press a button on the barrier, and your cart shoots off to the east. Again, if you meet an obstacle, like a cart on the track, you hit it and ricochet back to where you came from, where you have to dismount, destroy your carts, collect them, run them back through the mechanism to reposition them properly, get inside, push the button, and head off again. 

Getting 4 people to move down the tracks in this way was a complicated process (not unlike getting a team of players to overcome obstacles in moving a ball down a field). It was pure gamification. Rose had to explain to us what to do. We had to do it and deal with consequences of any departure from the only procedure that would ultimately work. Imagine doing this with foreign language learners. It required focus and perseverance. It was challenging and great fun.

Eventually we neared our final destination, which was the rail terminus back in our current EVOMC17 world. For a long time the rails had gone seemingly forever over water and now we were approaching the tiaga with its snow covered trees and layered terrain, like stacks of brownies with white icing on top. Near the end I hit a cart on the tracks and started going backwards. I was wondering if I should dismount in transit (would I fall in the ocean and drown?). Someone came running along the tracks and caught up with me. Snicker-snack the mine carts were all destroyed, including the one I was riding in. I was left standing on the tracks.

I started running to the east as the skies turned orange, signalling sunset. Better to arrive in daytime as monsters come out at night. Rose had mentioned we would be arriving at a dangerous place. so she had gone ahead as she was the most proficient with a sword. After a few minutes the tracks sloped steeply downwards and I saw my companions at the bottom, waiting for me. It was almost dusk. 

Rose had told us in text that in real life she needed to get back to something, so we were in a hurry to continue the journey from the terminus to the safety of the world we had built and lit up. That was where our safe houses were, where we could get inside and close the doors behind us. But that world was also distant enough to prevent people exploring the new world from stumbling on the rail line leading to the old too easily. Rose had helped design this, so she knew the way back.

Rose led our small group of avatars up and over the tiaga. Spiders appeared which we set upon with swords, but Jane was eliminated and respawned back at her own house, no way to return to us since teleport wasn't working :-). 

I tried to keep up with Mattie and Rose but was in the dim light I got caught in water and couldn't see how to get out of it. I tried heading forward and jumping simultaneously to extract myself and eventually did, but by then had lost the others. But Rose had come back for me, so we resumed our jumping up the icy terrain. Arrows suddenly appeared from nowhere. I never saw the skeleton that fired them but managed to elude it. But by now I had lost track of my friends and my direction of travel. Night time ain't no time to be out in the wilderness in Minecraft, and I was doomed. My screen reddened and I was informed that I had been taken down by a fire-eyed spider. I was invited to respawn. I accepted the invitation and found myself standing safely next to the last bed I had slept in.

From that position I was able to contact the others. Rose and Mattie were still making their way to their virtual home, in the dark, protected only by swords and by Rose's knowledge of where they were.  I couldn't wait to see if they survived it. Two hours had gone by quickly, and I had to log off.

Back in my real world, I felt the urge to blog it; hence, what you have just finished reading.

Meanwhile, here's Jane Chien's perspective:

The photo on the left shows the mechanism where you place mine cart #2 so it falls into #1 already on the tracks

1 comment:

DaveDodgson said...

A secret rail link? I think I have something to go in search of next time I'm on the server. :)

This sounds like a unique, goal-driven experience that would be a challenging but potentially rewarding one for language learners to tackle. Listening to input and processing it in real time (perhaps providing the spoken instructions as well), asking for clarification, reflecting and trying again. If all that was recorded, there would be a valuable resource for the learners to revisit.

Great stuff!