The Gaming Challenge: Preparing for the JLPT Through Friendly Competition

“One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.” Albert Einstein

What if I told you that you could feel just as eager about studying as you are about any other leisure activity that you enjoy? Feel free to call bullshit on me, but I speak the truth. If you sit and listen for a moment my friend, I will introduce you to the wonderful world of gamification.

What is Gamification

Gamification is a clever way to combat Rex (to steal Oliver Emberton’s term), our lizard brain that does nothing more effectively than to steer us in what is usually the absolute wrong direction.

For example, like all of you, I’m busy. When I get home from school or work at 11:00 PM and have to tackle a mountain of homework that’s going to keep me up until 3AM, the last thing I want to do is sit and study Japanese. So naturally I avoid both and watch Horrible Bosses for the 100th time.Is it fun? Heck yeah! Does it help me? Not at all. And even though I know this, I keep repeating the cycle (though in my defense, I do watch Zombieland for a little procrastinational variety instead).

Sound familiar? Don’t worry, we can get through this.

Enter gamification. The idea is pretty simple – pick the things you hate doing the most, assign points to them, and give yourself a reward when you do them. By turning drudgery into a game, you learn to hate something else more. Easy, right?

If you’re super motivated, you’ll probably be just fine with this system as is. Me? I tried this approach about a year ago with Japanese, and it worked wonders – for about three months. But then I found myself starting to slip in my tracking, and would buy myself rewards without earning them. “I’ll just earn the points back later” I told myself.  Sure. Never happened.

I’ve had a rough go of studying lately, so I wanted to try this system again, but with a twist. Instead of doing it solo, I decided to challenge Jessica to a gamification competition. Because if there is one thing that can overcome my highly developed procrastination skills, it’s my competitive streak.

The Gamification Challenge Rules

Establishing rules was the hardest part of doing a two-person challenge. We’re at different levels of Japanese and we wanted to focus on different aspects of the language.  We needed to make sure we were putting in about the same amount of effort, so we decided to try and calculate points based on 10-minute blocks. Because most of my tasks are Anki-based, I selected a number of cards that took approximately 10 minutes to complete. We capped the number of tasks at 5 since we wanted to keep our system simple, and assigned the easiest activity 1 point, while the most painful task got 5 points.

We decided to reevaluate our point system weekly, allowing us to add or remove tasks, and to change their point values. After all, the longer you do something, the less evil it (theoretically) becomes.

Note: In Week 3 we also instituted a -5 point penalty for skipping study days since we both found we were lacking consistency. Why is that so important? As Colvin writes in The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills, “With deep practice, small daily practice “snacks” are more effective than once-a-week practice binges. The reason has to do with the way our brains grow—incrementally, a little each day, even as we sleep. Daily practice, even for five minutes, nourishes this process, while more occasional practice forces your brain to play catch-up.”

The Activities

Our one rule for choosing a task is that we need to be actively engaged in it. Watching TV or reading a book is ok, so long as we’re pausing to look up the words we don’t know and make flashcards so we can review them later. Likewise, speaking practice is fine so long as our mistakes are being corrected.

The Prize

The winner at the end of each week will earn a free, incredibly delicious baked good of their choice.
The winner at the end of the month will be treated to….a trip to the butler café!

So now that you understand the basics, why not follow along with us!

The Gaming Challenge: Week 1

The Gaming Challenge: Week 2

The Gaming Challenge: Week 3

Have you ever tried gamification with your Japanese studies? If not, what do you do to overcome procrastination?

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