Learning from a Brush with the Crush

【APP遊戲】Candy Crush Saga

【APP遊戲】Candy Crush Saga (Photo credit: Albert.hsieh)

“Don’t do it, Mom!  Really, it’s like crack cocaine!”  So said my son and daughter-in-law after I asked them about the game they were enjoying on their phones. At least, I thought they were enjoying playing, although moans, groans, stomping and expletives occasionally burst forth. Despite their warnings, despite my previous serious relationship with Spider Solitaire, despite my brief fling with Bejeweled, I opened the demon Candy Crush.

The first night, I stopped at level 11, sent a gloating text to the kiddos detailing my progress, and went to bed.  That was the last semi-normal bedtime for several days.  I had already fallen under the spell of “just one more try” and “just one more level.” Soon my husband was bewitched as well, and we huddled on the couch criticizing one another’s strategies and googling hints, stopping only when our bleary eyes could no longer focus on the tiny technicolor squares.

I asked my students if they played the game, and many hands flew up, including hands never raised in class to answer lecture-based questions. Students boasted about being on levels in triple figures (Seriously? They go that far??) and were eager to swap stories and strategies. I noticed that some of the players were the same folks who found the physiologic sequences of cellular respiration or muscle contraction too difficult to master. Hmmm….what’s up with that?

【APP遊戲】Candy Crush Saga

【APP遊戲】Candy Crush Saga (Photo credit: Albert.hsieh)

I was reminded of Annie Murphy Paul’s references to “hard fun,” (Click here for a post from The Brilliant Blog on “How to Make Anything Interesting,” published in Huff Post Education, in which she discusses the idea of “hard fun.”).  What was it, I wondered, that makes Candy Crush an irresistible challenge, while learning anatomy & physiology seems just too difficult for some students to face? Could my foray into Candy Crush addiction teach me something about teaching?

First, I quit cold turkey at level 50-something. (I dare not reopen the game to provide a more accurate report.  The siren song of the bright little nuggets might lure me back to the grid.) I simply decided that this was NOT the way that I wanted to spend my time when there are so many good books to read, so many friends to talk to, and…let’s face it…such a large pile of dirty laundry accumulated during my binge.

【APP遊戲】Candy Crush Saga

【APP遊戲】Candy Crush Saga (Photo credit: Albert.hsieh)

Then I asked my students to tell me what it is about the game that makes them love to play it.  Some mentioned the sensual beauty of the game itself.  They love the bright colors, the cuteness of the candy, the association with something sweet and tasty.

Some students mentioned the pleasure of the surprises that the game offers.  When certain special candies are combined with others, amazing explosions of color light up the screen, followed by words like “Sweet!” and “Tasty!”  Completion of a level earns a “Sugar Rush” and a swarm of little Swedish fish swimming merrily across the screen.

Although I never accepted the game’s offer to connect with friends on Facebook, my students enjoyed the opportunity to play with friends and to offer one another extra lives or to earn extra lives. They enjoyed belonging to a group.

video gamer

video gamer (Photo credit: Judy **)

By far the most frequently mentioned reason for loving the game was the thrill of meeting an achievable challenge.  As one student said, “I just love beating a level.  I know that if I just keep trying, I can beat it. I just don’t want to stop until I get to the next level.” According to observations by XEODesign, a player experience design and research firm, this aspect can be listed under “Hard Fun” and can be described as “a challenge that focuses attention and rewards progress to create emotions such as Frustation and Fiero (an Italian word for personal triumph).”  You can read more of the research at www.xeodesign.com/xeodesign_whyweplaygames.pdf


Yes! (Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik)

Maybe a learning a little more about game theory can make me a more effective anatomy teacher.  As Brian Coatney noted in his post on April 28, feeling overwhelmed is not all bad.  I think about my own reaction to opening successively more difficult levels of the game.  After a brief “Oh,boy–this one looks impossible!” I was nevertheless more than ready to jump in, give it a go, and persist for as long as it took to meet the objective.  I wonder how we can harness those same emotions to enhance student learning.


One comment on “Learning from a Brush with the Crush

  1. Brian says:

    The idea of levels can appear threatening and elitist but can also be simply challenges. One reading program in my elementary school had color coded sections from which to choose a short article with accompanying questions. The color coding indicated levels of challenge during a block of time when students chose from the levels and worked to build up to higher ones. The teacher operated as a consultant on how this worked. Another benefit was the class was doing the same thing but with a range of pace and difficulty. It is one of my few elementary classroom memories, and that goes back to the 1950s. B

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