For successful learning, nothing is better than failing

Being wrong is a way to learn. Providing that you identify your mistake. And in many games, it makes the player reach the optimal gameplay or understand the goal. This kind of mechanics is very useful in gamification when the user has to learn something on his/her own.


Die and retry. It’s both the name and the motto of a type of game that has many fans. It’s about facing increasing difficulties leading to the death of your character. And then trying again with a different strategy.

But it’s not about losing because of bad playability, graphic bugs or balance problem. Neither is it about this illness commonly affecting FIFA players and known as the “Myremotecontrolisbroken” syndrome. Gamers know it, losing because of bad level design is extremely frustrating and leads to insults hurled at screens, violence against keyboards and “rage quits”.

What we are going to talk about here is the inherent difficulty that forces the player to redo, to try a new strategy, to be more focused.

But why would one wallow in such masochism? Well, the answer is in the title. And in the featured image. And coming right after this colon: learning by trial and error! If you can identify yourself the reason of a fail, find the “why” even without the “because”, it’s already the beginning of a victory.


“We learn to walk by stumbling”

– Bulgarian proverb

As this Belgian teacher explains (link in French), failure is primordial to learning. He draws a parallel between learning and the time we spend trying to walk. Stand up. Falter. Fall. Stand up again. Try all the vertical positions possible, find the optimal balance, and finally do those steps forward.

During a learning process, understanding the mistakes (lack of implication, of focus, of listening, etc.) is a step forward to the solution.

In Slice Fraction, mistakes are part of the game. Created for kids, it aims at teaching fractions. The player is immersed very quickly in this environment full of volcanos, ice blocks and woolly mammoths, without the step of tedious explanations about what fractions are. And it’s better like that! The other side of the coin: at a certain point, the kid will make a mistake. But after trying again, he will intuitively understand the solution thanks to an educational and playful visual environment.

On top of that you can add the pleasure felt when you overcome an obstacle. The more difficult this one is, the bigger the feeling of achievement will be.


“To err is human” 

– Seneca

In a non-game context, when gamifying a system – especially an e-learning one – it is important to set obstacles. A user trying to understand a process will understand it even better facing difficulties to overcome himself. And if it allows him to avoid a tutorial or many explanations, it’s a double-bonus-combo!

Silent Teacher is a game to learn how to code. You are guided by a teacher, caged, with their hands tied. A dream for many students. Therefore, all he can do is nod to indicate if your answer is correct or not, but he’s unable to explain why. If you want to understand, you’re on your own! (Sequestration is not so cool, finally, right? On top of being illegal, of course…)

Image Silent Teacher, Toxicode.

You may be skeptical of this method. But by dint of testing, trying, failing, you end up finding the right answer yourself. Understanding doesn’t depend anymore on how a teacher explains, but only on you! You evolve at your own pace, using your own mental gymnastics.To succeed, you don’t just need to study until you know the lesson by heart, but to understand how it works. And in the end, it works!

Oddly, the only complication appears when you give a correct answer. If you answer something randomly, or if your intuition leads you to it but without understanding exactly why, then you won’t really understand how it works. But you’ll just have to test your “theory” on the next question. Because, indeed, you’ll be allowed to reach the next level only if you answer a number of consecutive questions correctly.

Last bonus: as there is absolutely no explanation (and since coding is itself a language), no need to translate the game in many languages to have it played all over the world!


Feature image: Giulia Forsythe, Flickr.

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