What is the “core mechanic” of your class?

I’m not a game designer but I’ve been thinking a lot about games recently.  The gaming industry is HUGE right now with the production costs of many new video games topping the budgets of movies.  For instance, with all of its special effects and technical wizardry, Transformers:  Age of Extinction cost $210 million to make.  Released earlier this year, the movie earned $100 million dollars in its opening weekend.  By comparison, this year’s most hyped video game release, Destiny, reportedly cost over $500 million to make.  In its first five days, the game sold over $325 million.   Extending the focus to smartphone games and board games, the gaming industry is big business right now.

But my reflections on games don’t really stem from production costs or earnings.  A few weeks ago, a colleague and I designed an online professional development game for faculty on our campus.  The whole experience was designed around exploring “gamification in education.”  We discussed game mechanics and motivation and how the concepts could be applied in classroom settings.  The game provided a real “meta” experience for the participants.  They were learning about gaming as they were playing a game.  It was also a lot of fun.

One of the concepts we examined was the idea of “core mechanics.”  In video games, there is a core mechanic upon which the game is based.  It’s the action that happens most frequently and the skill that needs to be mastered for a player to be successful.  Charmie Kim, a game designer, wrote about “core mechanics” on her blog at Funstorm and included the following graphic to drive design and analysis of games.

CoreDiagramIn her framework, the core mechanic sits at the heart of the overall experience of the game.  The “secondary mechanics” are those actions that happen less frequently but are still critical to successful game play.  The “progression” is the holistic system which dictates the main source of change in the game.  The “narrative’ situates the overall experience and provides context for the other levels.  For instance, in the classic video Super Mario Brothers, the core mechanic would by “jumping” while the secondary mechanics would include “collecting coins and defeating enemies.”  The player progresses as they accumulate lives and move up levels in the game until eventually Princess Peach is saved.  Applied to other games, the core mechanic might include matching candies in Candy Crush, arranging blocks in Tetris or flinging birds in Angry Birds.  Kim’s framework provides a simplistic view of games and game design, but it could also provide a helpful lens to educators.

Think about a course you teach.  What is the core mechanic of your class?  I know most of us like to focus on the content we teach but what about the mechanics that individuals must master to be successful in your class?  Like Mario jumping from toadstool to toadstool, what skill is the key to being successful? What lies at the heart of the overall experience in your classroom? Is it “listen?”  Or “think?”  I know the comparisons between games and classrooms are somewhat limited and definitely debatable.  But I thought the “core mechanic” lens could provide a thoughtful, reflective exercise for some instructors.  It certainly has for me.



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