Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Good Badges, Evil Badges

    The $100,000 NEA grant for HERadventure that I wrote about two weeks ago has got some competition. This time, however, it is the University of California coughing up the funds. In a hands-across-the-country gesture, New York University's Steinhardt School of Cultural, Education, and Human Development announced that its Paulette Goddard Professor in Digital Media and Learning Sciences Jan L. Plass has received a $173,000 grant from "the Digital Media and Learning Research Competition of the University of California Humanities Research Institute for a project titled, “Good Badges, Evil Badges? An Empirical Inquiry into the Impact of Badge Design on Goal Orientation and Learning.’"

    I am not making up any of that.

    Perhaps "Badge Design" is throwing you for a loop? The announcement goes on to explain:
Video games have often used badges as a measure of achievement, from completing a specific task to showing mastery over a particular skill set. In order to realize the potential of badges on lifelong learning, the researchers will be studying the effect of different badge design on players’ attitudes and achievements.

    So "badges" are a digital pat on the back for players who make progress in their game of choice that encourage them to move on to bigger and better... levels of the game. A virtual trophy out of various patterns of colored lights on a video screen. An eBadge.

    Next, here's how the study will work:
The study will look at commercial games as well as the educational geometry-concept game, Noobs vs. Leets, to learn how the presence or absence of badges and trophies affects game play and motivation. Video recordings of gameplay will be analyzed for trends and insight into participants’ perception and valuation of badges as part of their gameplay experience and for changes in gameplay patterns when a player receives a badge.
The study will collect empirical evidence that will inform the discourse on the purpose and function and badges, and enable the researchers to develop theory-based, empirically validated design patterns to support badge designers and issuers in their design decisions.
     I believe that's pretty self-explanatory. And yet somehow at the same time wildly incomprehensible.

    The taxpayers of California and students at the University of California (and perhaps New York University as well, since I assume NYU might have to kick in some lunch money at least) may be looking with envy at HERadventure before all is said and done. After all, how can "badge design" hope to compete with an alien superhero charged with saving the auras of Earth’s women by fighting climate change? And for $73,000 less. The NEA knows a bargain when it sees one.

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