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Rewarding learning

star of the week

My little girl was ‘Star of the Week’ at her school last week for ‘great number work.’  She was ecstatic to receive the recognition.  And it’s a big encouragement to her to keep on trying.  I’m very proud of her.

Coincidentally but far more trivially, I went up a level in Modern Warfare 2.   It made me think about how we reward learning compared to the achievements celebrated in gaming.

I am not very good at Call of Duty, indeed my role largely seems to be cannon fodder for American teenagers, but I am persistent despite my thousands of deaths.  According the stats, I’ve been playing for more than 4 days over the last year.  That’s a lot of time but it’s less than a tenth of that spent by some young people I know.  One of the elements that keeps us coming back is the quality of the game’s encouragement – it rewards every achievement and all the effort.

If you’re not familiar with Call of Duty, here are the potential rewards:

In single player mode, you progress through the game unlocking harder levels, viewing cut scenes and revealing new elements of the storyline.  There are 18 ‘scenes’ split over 3 acts.  Each has a progressive but different set of challenges, characters, settings and equipment.  It’s a level of richness that proves compelling in its own right.  But it’s not all.

In multiplayer mode you also receive a public accolade at the end of each game and XP and bonus points.  There are public leaderboards to show your global ranking and private ones to compare your scores to that of your friends.

You earn points by using each weapon.  For example, assault rifles have the following challenges:

Challenge How To Complete Unlocks XP Reward
Marksman I 10 Kills Grenade Launcher 250
Marksman II 25 Kills Red Dot Sight 1000
Marksman III 75 Kills Silencer 2000
Marksman IV 150 Kills ACOG Scope 5000
Marksman V 300 Kills FMJ 10000
Marksman VI 500 Kills Experience Points 10000
Marksman VII 750 Kills Experience Points 10000
Marksman VIII 1000 Kills Experience Points 10000
Expert I 5 Headshots Woodland Camouflage 500
Expert II 15 Headshots Digital Camouflage 1000
Expert III 30 Headshots Urban Camouflage 2500
Expert IV 75 Headshots Blue Tiger Camouflage 5000
Expert V 150 Headshots Red Tiger Camouflage 10000
Expert VI 250 Headshots Fall Camouflage 10000
Expert VII 350 Headshots 10000
Expert VIII 500 Headshots 10000
Shotgun 20 Kills w/ Grenade Launcher Shotgun Attachment 750
Holographic Sight 60 Kills w/ Red Dot Sight Holographic Sight 1000
Heartbeat Sensor 15 Kills w/ Silencer Heartbeat Sensor 750
Thermal Scope 20 Kills w/ ACOG Scope Thermal Scope 750
Extended Mags 40 Bullet Penetration Kills w/ FMJ Extended Mags 1000
Mastery Unlock all attachments Title (Gold w/ Iron Cross) 10,000
Veteran I 500 Kills Title (Plain Grey) 10,000
Veteran II 1000 Kills Emblem (Silver) 10,000
Veteran III 2500 Kills Title (Silver Skulls) 10,000
Master I 250 Headshots Title (Grey w/ Head) 10,000
Master II 500 Headshots Emblem (Gold) 10,000
Master III 1000 Headshots Title (Gold Skulls) 10,000


Pretty impressive list, isn’t it? Notice how achievements are rewarded with points, emblems, titles and new content unlocks.  It is persuasive feedback to players.

Now consider this.  There are

  • 28 challenges for each primary weapon
  • 24 primary weapons
  • 22 challenges for each secondary weapon
  • 20 secondary weapons

Mastering the game’s arsenal offers more than a 1000 separate challenges.

And there’s more.  There are:

  • 96 perk challenges
  • 25 equipment challenges
  • 22 basic training challenges (unlocked at level 6)
  • 27 operations challenges (unlocked at level 10)
  • 57 killstreaks challenges(unlocked at level 16)
  • 32 precision challenges(unlocked at level 26)
  • 14 finishing moves challenges (unlocked at level 35)
  • 19 humiliation challenges (unlocked at level 41)
  • 15 payback challenges (unlocked at level 47)
  • 19 elite challenges (unlocked at level 53)
  • 16 intimidation challenges (unlocked at level 61)
  • 57 prestige challenges (unlocked at level 70)
  • 25 hidden challenges

That’s nearly 1500 different challenges in total, each rewarded with new content, status and points.  There are 70 levels, 297 different emblems for players and 570 callsigns.

This post isn’t a celebration of Call of Duty or the violent type of gameplay associated with it but it is an example of how games do everything they can to engage users.  It’s not just the sheer quantity of awards, it is the variety and value of them that we need to acknowledge.   Games reward effort and achievement in the following ways:

  • status
  • statistics
  • token and badges
  • progressive difficulty
  • public accolade
  • new content

It makes the tick after a right answer look a little paltry doesn’t it?

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  • Jim Martinez

    Hi Carlton, I too am a husband and father to a teen aged daughter that I am proud of. I can relate to your modern warfare and call of duty experiences. My daughter and nephews regularly destroy me in online play. I seem to have no advantage although I do perform better with certain weapons there seems to be no replacing fast twitch muscle reactions and excellent hand eye coordination. What I enjoy most when I play with them is when we can figure out how to collaborate in missions. I’m also interested in play, learning, performance, technology and collaboration. I’d like to invite you over to my blog, perhaps you will see something of interest there. Since I’ve just arrived at your site I haven’t read all of your posts, but I am looking forward to it.
    Enjoy your day.
    – Jim

  • Hi Jim

    Thanks for the comment. I really appreciate it. And draw some comfort from your similar experiences of Call of Duty! I agree wholeheartedly about the joy of collaboration – the ability to work together more than makes up from slower reactions, I think!

    Your blog is great, by the way. Really enjoying reading it.

    Thanks again.


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