What happened, Classcraft?

So, my last post focused on including girls in esports and my willingness to take a hard look at my own mistakes and failings. This post focuses on engaging boys in school through gamification and a company we all love's unwillingness to do the same...  on to glory!

The success

I decided to roll out Classcraft in all of my classes two years ago, and I have found it to be surprisingly effective. I've shared here in the past how not only do students take the health and experience of their characters very seriously, but they also strive to help their teams and classmates in general. One thing that continually surprised me was how much students crave XP (or experience points).

Remember, what I do with Classcraft has had no effect on student grades whatsoever. Yet, I've been able to attach points loss / gain consequences to my behavioral and procedural expectations via XP and HP. While these points don't matter in terms of students' grades, they do matter a great deal to students, who are ultimately more concerned with the game than their grade anyway. The biggest gain, however, is how they got so excited about equipping their avatar with custom stuff. I had so many cool "anchor projects" sitting around, ignored, despite being worth a ton of bonus points. It was the drive for XP and cool new gear that got students into finally doing those projects, now called "Boss Fights" with a ton of XP attached.

While my team leaders were healers for the most part, it turns out that from a Bartle Type perspective, the Achievers in my class were always driving the pursuit of XP. They typically chose Warrior (because coolest gear) and dragged their team on Boss Fights to level up, while the others come along. These same kids used to bug me every day for random events, thus driving an overall sense of excitement and buy-in for the game.

The change

So, like everyone else, I had a lot going on at the start of the school year. I got everyone going on Classcraft the first week, students chose their character class and created team names. Then the crickets started. My seventh graders have been loving Classcraft for the last two years (as someone who teaches a new class each marking period, that's 24 classes of seventh graders I've done Classcraft with... 24 classes of students doing boss fights, begging for random events, and asking whether we're doing any special quests or events this week. Then, crickets...

Meanwhile, I had a few move-ins for my eighth grade groups. I was helping one, a student with Neurological Impairment, set up his character, a warrior. He asked, what level he had to reach to get gear like the kid next to him. That's when it hit me. The warriors, the ones with the cool gear, the gear that finally engaged so many students in my classes, lost it in favor of "light shields". The kid next to him blurted out, "they nerfed Classcraft!", and suddenly all of my students (this is a game design class I should mention) began trying to find answers on what happened. It turns out the answers can be found on Classcraft's own blog, in the posts "The story of our new logo" and Announcing Classcraft’s 2019-2020 gear refactor
Specifically, we are making some small tweaks to maps and student gear to harmonize [emphasis added] them with the expansive new world we’ve created while addressing concerns around violence and some minor religious connotations that have been carried over from our roots in gaming. We’re starting this transition by changing Warriors to Guardians, updating the power names and images, and shifting “falling in battle” to simply “falling.”
My students pointed out that "harmonization" is a term used for game censorship in China and that when they English patch a Chinese language game, they often also apply an "anti-harmonization" patch to get rid of any censorship (example).

Either way, it seems as though Classcraft received some pressure from somewhere to get rid of the weapons, and rather than sticking to their guns, saying, "this is a secondary gamification platform", they decided to go ahead and risk alienating their main customer base by caving.

The response and ramifications.

It turns out that a lot of folks were upset about this from the official Classcraft forums to Facebook. The response from other teachers, like myself, who have had nothing but praise for Classcraft, should be an indicator of how bad a move this was. Probably no one seemed more upset to me than my 7th graders. My eighth graders took it upon themselves to interview my seventh graders about the changes and the result was a group of kids who had been indifferent (indifferent - not excited or enthused, mind you) about Classcraft to a group of very angry kids. They felt ripped off, particularly those with older siblings who had played it in previous years. Surprisingly, it wasn't just the warriors who were angry. Everyone felt betrayed by this. This is their first year doing it, but they said things, like, "it's just like everything else at school... starts out cool, then it gets turned into something so safe it's stupid."

Why such vitriol? I have a theory, based on one of the comments I saw on Facebook. Jared Oaks, noted that,
For better or worse, it's those fore-mentioned boys, who want to be big mighty warriors that we're trying to reach. Again and again, they're receiving the narrative that what engages them has no place in school, and here we are again! 
He was referring to the October 2010 TED talk (embedded below) where Ali Carr Chellman shares her assertion that zero tolerance policies and the way they're lived out is sending a message to our boys that says, "Well I guess [school] was just a place for girls, it wasn't for me. So I've got to do gaming, or I've got to do sports." Chellman's call for better more engaging games around the curriculum seemed to have been answered by Classcraft in a big way, but now they're stepping back.

So when Scott Ilkenhons refers to "the over PC-ing of our culture and having the overly sensitive people alter our way of thinking versus being free with our thoughts and creativity," when Michael Ludlow says "take away the cool factor and you take away the engagement," and when Scott Beiter notes that "When I first read this was happening I didn't believe it because I thought it was a joke"; they're clearly speaking from a subconscious understanding of this very concept that Chellman is speaking of.

Classcraft's "roots in gaming" that they are so quick to malign and cut ties with is the very thing that engaged this entire previously disengaged population. Amanda Xavier put it beautifully when she said, "my kids will lose interest and then I have to go back to the drawing board on how to engage these title one middle school kiddos". Yes, Stephanie, swords may, for some, only represent — "power, autonomy, and identity", but for this kids who always feel alienated by edu-culture, the swords removal spoke volumes about how once again, those kids don't belong here.

Finally, the theme I saw emerging over and over again on Facebook, Twitter, and Classcraft's teacher forums was that teachers want choice. They want the ability to choose to accept or not accept these changes:

This was bigger than you thought, but it all boils down to choice, give us the option to make an intelligent decision whether this is right for us or not, rather than enslaving people to a limited set of ideals.  Scott Ilkenhons

I just want more options with a subscription, not fewer! Scott Beiter

I support the idea of it being up to the teacher. I like the idea of secondary mode I think would be very beneficial, because middle school kids would buy into the program more. Amanda Xavier

PLEASE rethink this. Make it a feature to turn on or off. I love the idea of new costumes and such "the new gear and other assets we’ll be adding" -- but if being subscribed to Classcraft for five years has taught me anything, it's this: there will be large promises of new tools LONG before they ever actually appear. Nicholas Hendley

Rather than punish the whole community, why not let the teachers and administrators make the decision about what is best for their classes and schools?  It cannot be that difficult to make this option available to those who wish to use it.... The right path to take would have been to allow your customers to choose what is right for their class, students, and school. Gavin Meeks

They want gamification that looks like the games they actually play. I feel this was a terrible move, and I want the option to change the setting back! Clint Walters (me)

My students, especially the boys, are quite disappointed. I teach FSL (wich is really not a favourite subject!) and ClassCraft was a big motivator, especially for my spec ed boys who would sometimes do extra work just to get gold pieces so they could buy cool outfits. Now without the weapons the outfits are not so cool anymore! Please give us the possibility to have the weapons back!!! Lyne Parent

I think you should be giving the teachers the choice, based on their school's policy and atmosphere, on if they want the weapons or the power stones. To sound like society (and my business law class when we talk about new school rules), you are punishing EVERYBODY, because a few locations/schools/adminstrations are upset about fantasy weapons. Jeffrey Holley

I, too, was very disappointed in the change to the Warriors, as were my students.  I would love to have an option to change it back to the traditional weapons.  I have been a huge proponent of Classcraft and have embraced every change until now.  I am very much not a fan of this! Mr. Ermenc

As others have said, it's a fantasy game, warriors have weapons. I mean, you do realize you now have an unlockable suit called the "Blademaster" that doesn't use blades, right?  Almost all the warrior ability icons show swords or weapons of some sort. Fine, maybe some people are uncomfortable with any kind of weapon being shown. Ever.  But for the rest of us, why not leave it as a setup option?  Warrior weapons/No weapons.  Scott McLaughlin

My 7th grade students are very disappointed with the changes with the warriors' weapons, as am I. This is a fantasy based game, and part of getting the kids excited to use it is that the graphics mirror what they would see in a real fantasy video game. Please bring back the original warrior gear, or allow teachers the ability to unlock it for specific classes. You could even offer it for the students to buy with their GP. Erin Murphy
I understand why the decision was made, but question why there wasn't consideration for optional inclusion? I teach at a high school level. My students usually enjoy classcraft; however, they were the ones pointing out to me the most recent changes. Luke Morse

So, clearly people are looking for some choice in this matter, Classcraft. Are you planning to provide it? My students have gone from rage back to indifference. So while kids have accepted this, they are no longer interested. You've satiated the educator community for the time being by saying,
Please know that we are taking your opinions to heart. There are plenty of discussions taking place around this issue. Your comments are being heard. Classcraft's Official Facebook
Now, it just remains to be seen whether or not you'll actually do anything about or whether you'll dig your heels in and plug your ears until, as Scott Beiter said a developer somewhere, looking at making another fantasy gamification platform develops something with "features that this Platform doesn't such as different weapons to equip and highly customizable boss battles and avatars... Teachers will quickly jump platforms". Heck, some of my game design / development students are already trying to work it out, and they're only eighth graders. I imagine there are some highschool students out there right now who could easily set something like this up.


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