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The gamification of life

Student Writers Advisory Group weighs in on the phenomenon of 'like'-ing the real world

RASTOGILife is not a video game, regardless of what “Wreck-It Ralph” or “The Last Starfighter” may have to say. But that doesn’t prevent many social media sites from treating some real-life experiences as something for which you can gain points or approval — even something as simple as “likes” for your high school graduation picture.

You look good. You did well. You get approval.

A desperation to be “liked” can put pressure on teens, though, and that’s what the Student Writers Advisory Group — students from Lake Oswego, Lakeridge, West Linn, Wilsonville and Riverdale high schools — are addressing this week.

The topic is “gamification,” which is the concept of applying aspects of game playing to encourage people to reach goals in real life. The term and technique often is employed in marketing to engage people with a product, but local teens say it can also affect your personal and academic lives.

Here’s what SWAG members had to say:

Easing the academic pressure

By Kriti Rastogi

Teachers are constantly seeking new ways to motivate students in the classroom, and I have often been subject to these experimental strategies, such as using computer games as learning tools and designing friendly contests to create incentives for one student to learn more information than another.

While this approach to learning seems efficient, it only generates motivation for a student to achieve a high score or letter grade and enforces competition, something that is already an unhealthy reality in Lake Oswego. This idea of combining game-like elements such as competition and keeping score is known as gamification, and while the term and strategy is commonly found in marketing, it has become dangerously prevalent in public school systems today.

Gamification causes a destructive correlation between “losing” and “learning” by forcing students to think that by not achieving an A or a B, they have failed to grasp the concept presented to them. However, this is not the case. Putting students in the confinements of five letter grades fails to assess more important aspects of their educational ability, such as their effort level and the amount of information they actually learned. While gamification provides motivation for achieving a high letter grade, it also removes the motivation to learn.

Many teachers are often known for saying phrases such as, “I don’t give grades, you get the grades you earn.” Gamification in our education system proves that this may not be true. If a student spends several hours studying for a test and achieves a C, while a different student achieves an A without studying at all, does a letter grade accurately assess their abilities and progress? By removing the need to obtain a higher score and replacing it with a desire to learn, we could eliminate much of the unnecessary pressure that accompanies the greed of a high GPA rather than a natural enjoyment of learning.

Kriti Rastogi is a sophomore at Lake Oswego High School.


Pity the player, blame the game

By Serena Zhang

1. We’re all mindless drones.

2. The system is evil.

3. Remember, remember, the Fifth of November.

4. Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant.

Those are some of the thoughts I’ve had during the school year. The first two accurately describe my cynical attitude toward standardized testing. The third represents my deep-seated desire to abolish it, though I’m afraid I’m all talk. I’m not really interested in donning a Guy Fawkes mask and blowing up Parliament.

The last one is a Latin phrase gladiators used to say before entering the arena. It translates to: “Hail, Emperor, those who are about to die salute you.” Morbid, I know, but you can bet that I uttered it on the day of my AP Chemistry exam, accompanied by the rebellious Three Finger Salute from the “Hunger Games” series.

Whether you are a high school student or a revolutionary set on making The House of Lords a pile of rubble, people always want to beat the system. Then when they finally do, they don’t. Why? Because now the system works in their favor. They’re rich, they’re successful and they’re respected. They’ve beaten the system, but the system’s still winning.

To avoid hypocrisy, though, I must admit to my own actions. After months of studying for the SAT without the progress I expected, I could be found fanatically chanting Thought 1 and Thought 2 in my every waking minute. Then on my second test, some wormhole must have opened in the universe because I managed to squeeze out a score 200 points higher than my first one. Intoxicated by dopamine-fueled triumph, I began to think: “Hey, maybe standardized testing isn’t so bad after all!”

I mean, if it gets me into Harvard, whatever, right? Exceling in deception still makes you a success story. The results are in and that’s all that matters.

Was my success a sign of hard work, or a sign of foolish obedience? Should I be proud of myself, or angry with adults who try to compartmentalize me with questions on parabolas and dangling modifiers?

I have spent too much of my life worrying about what some admissions officer wants from me. I have beaten myself up over selecting a perfect class schedule and whether a “co-” in front of “president” will dock me points. I’ve strained relationships, lost my hair and dangled dangerously close to depression, all within the first semester of my junior year. I have cut myself open, sifted through my insides, weighed each organ in my quivering hands and wondered if it would get me a 4.0, a 2400, a 36, a 5, a “We are pleased to offer you ...” or a “We regret to inform you ...”

I have crafted my body into a string of numbers and hung myself on meat hooks for examination. I proudly show them my bruises, my aches and my scars. Look how red they are, how fresh! I carved this one yesterday, you know, while I bubbled in circles on a scantron. Is your acceptance rate low enough yet? Or should I join some more clubs, take some more APs?

Pick me, pick me! I’ll do anything. I’ll even let you keep score.

Serena Zhang is a junior at Lake Oswego Junior High School.


Gamification — staged lives

By Claire Williams

I am a perpetrator of a very dangerous social phenomenon — and you may be, too.

A glance through my social media accounts will reveal pictures from winter formal, concerts, vacations, theater productions, spending time with my friends. But nowhere will you see pictures from when I stressed for two weeks over AP exams, when I forgot to eat breakfast or when none of my friends were available to spend time with me.

Social networks allow their users to cultivate a specific image and persona that they then broadcast to the world. Whereas in face-to-face conversation, people have no means of editing and revising themselves, social media permits careful thought behind every minute interaction. Users can edit out imperfections and contour their faces with the mere download of an app, effectively choosing what aspects of their daily lives they want to share.

The consequence of this is that we share all of our friends’ best moments — their tropical vacations, their acceptance letters into college, their gorgeous senior photos and their staged prom night images — without the valuable context of the less-exciting or even negative parts of their lives.

It can be difficult to be the recipient of this constant stream of successes, happiness and extroversion. It can feel as though all of the people in our lives are living exciting, fun-filled, highly successful lives and we are mundane in comparison. I have sat at home looking gloomily at the screen of my phone because my friends are hanging out together and posting about it while I’m alone, being completely boring. It is not hard to make the extrapolation that this comparison could be a factor in the high levels of stress and depression that many of my high-school-age peers face.

Last week, my grandmother bought an iPhone — the first “smart” device she has owned — and I helped her learn how to use it. When I saw the joy that technology brought her as she was able to instantly send photos of her grandchildren to her sister in another state, I was reminded of the benefits that being constantly connected to one another brings. Because of moments like this, I hesitate to denounce modern technology entirely. However, it is truly important to remember the narrow lens that social media provides.

Claire Williams is a junior at Lakeridge High School.


Points are Pointless

By Ava Eucker

Our society breeds a hunger for reward and recognition. The spark of enthusiasm has fizzled under a flood of compensation for good deeds.

Prestigious organizations are creating minimum requirements for members, yet the word minimum is emblazoned in bold font. In order to participate in organizations such as National Charity League (NCL) and Key Club, one must perform a required number of philanthropic hours and must attend a particular number of meetings in order to remain in the society or to receive extra awards. In addition, Key Club now entices students who want to receive a varsity letter to gain a multitude of points from various volunteer projects. Though these organizations are wonderful in their philanthropic efforts, members are too easily persuaded to volunteer for the sake of credit on a resume.

Driven by reward, many students now strive to "get things done” rather than absorbing experiences from their educational or philanthropic values. Tutors are hired to assist teens in obtaining better grades, because it seems good simply isn't good enough. The stress of stacking points, cramming them into every crevice of one’s existence, can cause waves of anxiety as a byproduct of our society’s demand for reported achievements.

One's mind melds into a series of memorized facts and pinging reminders to trump obstacles in order to be viewed as “smart” “strong” or a “good citizen.” Without such titles rewarded for touchdowns or A+ papers, would one still be considered smart or strong? Would people even take notice of the efforts of others if points were not counted and compared? Points sour the beauty of giving to give, learning for knowledge — and they deter wading through new experiences, for one can reap greater scholarships or promotions from only perfecting repeated motions.

In the chase to accumulate the Everest of awards, we lose touch with the passion to do what we love. Gone is real sympathy from volunteers for those struggling with issues beyond our realm of possibility, and the value of knowledge is replaced by the necessity to only ace a test. We are programmed to do the minimum amount of work required to snag the greatest score or title for conquering short-term goals — such as retaining test information before an exam in order to get maximum points before disregarding the knowledge.

For example, when a National Honor Society (NHS) member is required to serve at least 10 hours, in many cases one will choose to tutor for exactly 10 hours. If another student decides to give 20 or 30 hours of service to their community, he or she will receive the same NHS credit; therefore, many bright minds are deterred from giving more as unrewarded effort isn't desired.

Many people strive for points in the form of “likes” or “favorites” on social media. Posting silly pics with friends was cool, but now a great majority of teens feel the need to project that they’re living a perfect life, and “likes” are thought to equate to likability. If your “followers” do not like your post, is this a reflection of an inferior intellect or status?

Should recognition and reward be factors in choosing to pursue something? Should hard work be stimulated from the desire to earn points for grades or scores for sports? Should reward not be an occasional benefit for those who find passion from what they learn in class, accomplish at work, share on media or give to their community?

Points merely distract from sincere efforts, efforts that should be derived from one's heart.

Ava Eucker is a sophomore at Lakeridge High School.


A reward-motivated culture

By Anna Speer

Everyone enjoys playing their favorite board game with friends once in awhile, but many people do not realize that the tactics used to captivate people in these games are starting to be employed in everyday life.

Gamification takes the typical elements of playing a game and focuses them into different activities so that people become more engaged and want to spend more time with that activity. If you have ever owned a fitness band, been on a social media website or used a rewards system of any kind, you are familiar with gamification.

Giving someone a goal to work toward with the lure of receiving a reward when this goal is achieved greatly increases a person’s motivation to complete that task.

I am regularly able to spot gamification in my own life, such as with my Fitbit, which awards badges for achievements such as walking 10,000 steps a day. Fitbit also adds the competitive allure of competing with friends to see who is the most active during the day, which further prompts me to find ways to exercise.

Another example of gamification’s effects is when I am studying flashcards on Quizlet. The website offers study games to see how quickly you can match a flashcard to its definition and encourages you to try and beat your high score. Not only does this help surmount the drudgery of studying, but I also find that I am able to remember the definition of the word far better using this tool than if I were to just look up the definition of the word.

Admittedly, I find that I am more susceptible to choose this option because it reinforces my learning and makes it easier to stay focused. Gamification is a valuable tool when used wisely, and will continue to be implemented more in society as our culture becomes more reward-motivated.

Anna Speer is a sophomore at West Linn High School.


Using games to teach

By Anisha Arcot

Gamification applies game-design techniques to motivate and engage people to successfully complete projects or tasks. It is a powerful tool, capable of enabling participants to leverage their desire to win games to achieve their goals in many areas.

Gamification or some variation thereof is widely used in schools. Students first encounter it in elementary school, and it is almost pervasive in high school. Many teachers use gamification as a tool in every class; others stay far away from it, believing that it causes unhealthy competition.

In academic settings, gamification can be very beneficial to high-achieving students. These students are driven and have a strong fundamental understanding of the basics, so when a teacher uses game-design methodologies, it serves to further engage students' interest in the content and help them reach their full potential.

On the other hand, gamification can negatively impact students who do not feel confident and are challenged by the material. When classroom environments are made to seem more game-like and therefore competitive, students who are introverts or who find the class challenging are likely to retreat into their shells and shut down.

Gamification creates an environment in which a student’s knowledge is on display in a very public format in front of all of her classmates. Thus, any student who is already confident and well versed in the content or is an extrovert will benefit, while a student who is struggling will be at risk of falling further behind.

Perhaps if teachers were given training on the fundamental science of game-design techniques that are tailored to enhancing learning, they would be able to develop “educational games” that served all students regardless of their personality or prior grasp of the material.

In social situations, however, there is little to no room for a positive form of gamification. Students have turned the number of Facebook “friends” or Instagram “likes” into a pseudo-game. We are constantly comparing ourselves and competing with one another in the virtual world. This gamification of our social lives is detrimental to our mental and emotional health, and the negative impact spills over into all aspects of our lives.

Comparing one another based on follows and likes leads to reduced self-esteem and puts teenagers at risk for depression. Without the need to compete and compare on social media, each person would be able to focus on being happy and fulfilled instead of worrying about reaching an artificial goal in the meaningless games of the virtual world.

I think gamification, if used thoughtfully in an academic setting, can help students learn better, but the pseudo-gamification of our social lives has no redeeming features.

Anisha Arcot is a sophomore at West Linn High School.