human female grad student – a real life rpg

As part of a school project on participating with the Internet, I’ve turned six weeks of my life into an RPG.  I’m about halfway through now, and way behind on writing down my thoughts. How does one turn their life into an RPG? Well, there’s not really much change required. My whole life is one big campaign. I’m just formalizing things with numbers.

The Quest: To make it through the semester while working and maintaining a personal life. Success is measured in experience points. My goal is to acquire 6000 before the end of the project. This is not going so well. I (purposefully) gave myself missions that would be challenging. Things like picking up extra work at my job (the ever-present assessment goal) and taking my dog out regularly even though I am swamped. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few gimmes. Things that award me with stamina, like going out on a date, aren’t hard to make time for.

I’ve learned a number of things from this experiment even as I hit the halfway point. The first is that this project has actually motivated me. I was skeptical that it would have any effect on my behavior and thought it would be an exercise in transparency more than anything. I realize now that I do tend to prioritize missions above other things I could be doing. This was an odd conceit for me to make, since I am a big proponent of game-based incentives in education. That being said, I feel like what really appeals to me about the power of gaming in education is the opportunity for the player to form an identity and become immersed in the game and therefore the content it is trying to impart. When I was formulating this idea for a project, I thought about it more in terms of analytics than in terms of play. I was not forming a new identity–I was me. I did and continue to do the things that are required of me. So what is the difference? How does assigning an arbitrary point value to a task incentivize me?

I didn’t realize it at first, but I was turning my life in data. What do we in education say about data? Data can be analyzed. Data makes sense of things. Assigning “Stamina” and “Knowledge” points to my endeavors started out as slightly tongue-in-cheek and a good way for me, as the designer of this game, to arrive at a value for each mission. However, I have found that I am taking the personal missions where I am gaining stamina to heart. I feel more rested after completing these tasks, just as I feel a greater sense of accomplishment from doing a school mission than a task that I did not assign value to for the week. As a result, I have turned in more assignments early in the last few weeks than I ever have before.

I can’t exactly explain why I feel better about completing “missions”; I’m sure it might have something to do with what I’m choosing to assign to myself in the first place. I can say, though, that sitting down each Sunday and attaching very specific value to what I’m going to do that week helps me make sense of things. It seems more pressing than a to-do list. More compelling than a due date on a syllabus. I have a quest, and I feel like I must achieve my goals. It is what I love about progress bars and power-up animations on a grand scale. These kinds of metrics make one aware of their own accomplishments and quantify what is still left to achieve. This is the power of learning analytics.

I’ve learner a few other things, too. My husband does a lot to take care of me while I’m going to school. My time and resources are finite. There is value in making the decision to let something go. There is value in sending something out into the world before it is perfect. I hope I keep learning these kinds of lessons from this project.



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