Ticket to Read is an educational computer game that provides practice and skill-building for young readers and prereaders in kindergarten through sixth grade. Characters in the game include TJ Ticket, his female sidekick, and a professor (all shaped like tickets), as well as Zogwogs, who lead children through the lessons and are reminiscent of “Jumpin’ Beans” or “Mighty Beanz” wobbly jelly bean-shaped toys.
Zogwogs volunteering their lessons
Players progress through the game as they complete lessons in either phonics or reading, depending on skill and grade level. For the purpose of this summary, we (my 4-year-old son and I) began in the phonics game environment, completing lessons on letter names, letter sounds, sight words/high-frequency words, consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words, onset/rime, and more.
Games are scaffolded for reading levels from preprimer to 7.0. More-advanced levels include reading passages, learning vocabulary, and developing comprehension—all in an interactive, gamified environment.
The primary motivating factor for beginning players is filling their personalized Toy Shop with toys. Once a player earns six tokens, the professor character makes whatever toy he or she chooses from a small collection presented on a screen. The toy is then added to the player’s Toy Shop, to be played with at will.
Selection of toys you can get with 6 tokens
Older players who are reading or beginning to read may find intrinsic motivation in the goal of becoming a better reader. As they develop reading fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, they earn rewards, including tokens to be used to decorate a personalized Clubhouse. But what may be equally or more motivating for them is seeing themselves progress to higher levels of passages and understanding more of what they read—in the game, in regular coursework, and beyond.
Ticket to Read does have characteristics that fall into the three categories of a good game that Thomas W. Malone outlines: (1) challenge, (2) fantasy, and (3) curiosity.
According to Malone, “In order for a computer game to be challenging, it must contain a goal whose attainment is uncertain” (Malone, 1980, p. 162).
Players of Ticket to Read do not know exactly how much they will improve—or how many toys or decorations they will ultimately accumulate. So there is some degree of uncertainty surrounding the game’s goals. The program does have varying difficulty levels determined by the game’s design according to the player’s skill level. The game is also designed to nurture self-esteem as subgoals within lessons are met.
Space pickle, anyone?
Ticket to Read uses extrinsic fantasy in its lessons, meaning the fantasy depends on the use of the skill, but the skill does not depend on the fantasy (Malone, 1980). For instance, in one lesson the player finds him or herself flying a spaceship—but it can only move forward and reach its destination if the player answers the phonics question correctly.
At the beginning level of Ticket to Read, we did not notice much cognitive curiosity built in to the lessons. There are, however, many forms of sensory curiosity, including audio and visual effects used as decoration, to enhance fantasies like the space ship, and as rewards (Malone, 1980). For instance, when the player gets something right, the Zogwogs might reward sensory curiosity by dancing, wiggling, or otherwise surprising the player with some sort of entertaining behavior.
Ticket to Read employs a wide range of in-game achievement design, as outlined in Chapter 10 of The Gamification of Learning and Instruction (Kapp, 2012). Types of achievement worked into the game’s design include: virtual currency in the form of tokens, both permanent (digitally tangible) and temporary achievements, both measurement and completion achievements, and both expected and unexpected achievements.
Players earn a token for completing each new lesson (lessons that are repeated may not be eligible) and may earn more depending on how well they did (although the criteria for this measurement achievement is unclear). Players can also earn a bonus token if they “put the Zogwog to sleep,” or, in other words, master the lesson.
Because the system of evaluation is unknown to the player, this bonus token and the exact number of tokens they will earn for the lesson are unexpected. However, earning at least one token is an expected achievement after completing a new lesson.
At the beginning level, toys are the primary form of completion achievement, and tokens are needed to get them. These achievements are permanent and can be played with whenever the player chooses (actually the Zogwogs and ticket-shaped characters play with the toys for the player, which is great fun to watch!).
There are also temporary achievements during and after gameplay. Phrases like “Great job!” “Good Work!” “You’re doing well!” and “You’ve completed the lesson” are meant to give verbal reinforcement. “Unlike tangible achievements, these verbal boosts increase intrinsic motivation,” Kapp writes (Kapp, 2012, p. 219).
Kapp also warns that, with currency and tangible rewards, players could “end up caring about the reward system more than the game itself” (Kapp, 2012, p. 222). This may be true for my son.
Lessons were a bit too long and currency too hard to come by for my preK son. However, the overall gaming environment was motivating, and in-game achievement design was clever. I would recommend this program as fun, purposeful practice to parents and teachers of elementary-age children.
Kapp, K. M. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: Game-based methods and strategies for training and education. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
Malone, T. W. (1980). What makes things fun to learn? A study of intrinsically motivating
computer games. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.