Take CHARGE of the Moment
There is a lot of freedom in playing open-world video games. Playing games like Skyrim or Minecraft, players control a character tasked with one main job - explore and interact with the world. Sure, some games have a token plot but most ask users to simply walk around and experience life in a virtual environment. Instead of staying on the yellow brick road, game developers purposely hide items and side quests in peculiar places to reward those that take risks.
Of course straying from the path means that your character may die. Though not permanent, most games have some type of penalty for dying. Your character might lose currency, items, or the last 20 minutes of game play might be wiped out. So, experienced gamers know that the trick to off-roading in open-world games is to save their games early and often. If something sparkly catches your attention off across a gorge, save your game and then explore. That way, if you're eaten by a chasm fiend or suffer some other type of ignominious death, you can simply load your game from your last save file. No harm, no foul.
Initially released in 2016, No Man's Sky by Hello Games looked to be just another entry into the crowded open-world simulation game. To put it succinctly, it was Minecraft in space. With a universe procedurally-generated rather than limited, there are more than 18 quintillion worlds to explore. 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 to be exact. You fought environmental dangers, carnivorous beasts, and space pirates that constantly threatened to destroy you. As you gathered materials, you slowly built better defenses and upgraded your weapons.
When it first came out, there really was no plot or story line. Your goal was to survive and explore. As later updates came out, different story lines and features were added. Visually stunning, it carved out a unique niche in the gaming community. I enjoyed playing it for several years when it first came out. The thrill of landing on and exploring alien worlds was everything the developers hoped it would be.
Unfortunately, it was my shame and fear that drove me to stop playing the game.
No Man's Sky, like many other open-world games, came with various difficulty levels to play at. The easiest level was the creative difficulty level. It was meant simply for exploration with no chance of dying. Beyond that, the game could be played at the normal or survival difficulty levels. Being the experienced gamer that I was, I chose to play at the survival difficulty level. Though it required frequent saves and reloads, it gave me the challenge I was looking for.
And then the Pathfinder update came out.
This update, along with many new features to the game, brought yet another level of difficulty to the massively popular game: permadeath. For those gamers that survived too easily in survival mode, an additional challenge was made possible. The survival and permadeath levels were identical in regards to their difficulty. The starting locations were equally challenging, the creatures were as aggressive in one mode as in the other, and the costs for crafting items were equally staggering. The difference was death.
Dying in survival mode happened frequently. If your character died, you'd respawn somewhere nearby but suffer the penalty of losing some inventory items and having some of your technology break and need to be recrafted. Thus, saving the game early and often could keep you from losing progress by simply reloading a previous saved game file rather than continuing to play after death.
Permadeath, however, was just like it sounded. If you died in this difficulty level, there was no reloading a previous game. You didn't spawn somewhere else with a few items lost and some technology broken. No, the screen went black for several long seconds and then the starting menu of the game showed up. The only option you had from that menu was new game because your entire save file had just been wiped out. When you died, it erased that entire file off your system and you had to start over. Permanently.
Being the type of person who always liked to challenge myself, I obviously started playing the game on permadeath difficulty after the update. To not do so would be just as bad as playing on creative difficulty (something only casual gamers do, mind you). So I played. And died. And lost game files. Sometimes I'd make it several hours into the game, getting off my original planet and starting to explore the 18 quintillion+ planets before I met an untimely demise.
Every time, the entire file would be deleted and I'd have to start over again. Needless to say, it was very frustrating. Rather than enjoying a peaceful game of exploration, the difficulty level kept me in a constant state of anxiety. Everything was a possible threat that had to be avoided, even if it was a relatively minor threat that had little chance of killing me. No risk was worth deleting the entire save file.
What finally did me in were the space pirates (a sentence I'd never thought I'd write in my entire life). Hazards on the planet surfaces were, for the most part, manageable. If I avoided certain planets with super-aggressive creatures, I could usually manage to not die from environmental toxins. But to get from planet to planet, one of the key mechanics in the game, I had to fly through space. And space pirates don't mess around.
Lurking in almost every system, they waited until you got far enough away from the safety of a planet or a space station before they would strike. Once engaged, you could not outrun them. You had to fight and it was kill-or-be-killed. For whatever reason, space battle was not my strong suit. I never felt comfortable with the controls of space combat and usually died. If I was in survival mode, I'd simply respawn at the nearest space station with some of my inventory lost and some of my spaceship's technology broken. But far too often, I would be killed by space pirates while playing the permadeath difficulty level.
Deleting save files
As you can imagine, the game stopped being fun. I had so much anxiety whenever I went into space that it completely changed my game play. I love challenges, so playing on the second hardest difficulty level didn't appeal to me. Instead of jaunting around the universe, cataloging wonders on planets that no other gamer had yet found, I scuttled around in the dark trying not to be noticed by space pirates. I stopped taking risks or trying new things because I didn't want my save file to be deleted. Then I finally realized that the whole thing was stupid. Video games were supposed to be fun, not terror-inducing. I simply walked away from the game.
So you're probably wondering what in the world any of this has to do with taking charge in the moment. Well, this overly drawn out analogy is a perfect picture of many classrooms today. As a teacher, you should ask yourself which difficulty level your students are playing at as they explore and learn in your classroom every day. When they make a mistake, and they will, what happens when the incident is over? Can they simply pick up where they left off and rejoin the community? Or do you, in effect, delete their save file and make them start earning your good graces from scratch?
One of the most important parts of classroom management is what happens after the situation is handled or resolved. Students should be embraced and welcomed back to the community after they have been redirected, made restitution, or simply calmed down. They've already been through an emotional roller coaster and they don't need to start yet another one as they try to mend relationships. When teachers shun, shame, or make their general displeasure known after emotional outbursts, students don't feel safe. They begin to realize that their save file that included everything they'd done to build relationships in the classroom would be deleted after each outburst.
Yet it's not as easy as simply stopping the behavior that causes the outbursts. Students have big emotions they are trying to understand and many are missing the executive skills (Day 15) they need to handle their feelings. When they mess up, they must feel as if they can simply reload a previous save [relational] file and start again. This type of safety net gives them a sense of security because they know that they will still be loved and accepted after an outburst.
Continuing to ostracize the child after a disciplinary situation through verbal and physical signs of displeasure keeps the student in permadeath mode. Afraid to mess up ever because to do so would result in having to start completely over relationally, these students live in anxiety and fear. Operating in a continually heightened state will cause them to perform worse and worse, both academically and behaviorally.
After the behavioral interaction is complete, embrace the child. If appropriate, give them a hug. If not, let them know that they are cared for verbally. Done enough, this type of reception after a meltdown will build in students a sense of confidence. They might stop playing the game of trying to behave in your classroom on survival mode and shift down to normal mode. As the threats decrease, their comfort and confidence will increase.
Action: Think about your process for integrating students back into the classroom after an outburst. Decide on a gesture you can make, either physically or verbally, that you can genuinely use to embrace students after a meltdown.
Reflection questions: What difficulty level is your classroom? Are your students afraid to try new things? Are they too timid to take a risk? If so, how can you lower their level of anxiety?
To read Day 30, click here.