#MTBoS as a game: a n00b’s perspective


I have enjoyed “lurking” around the conversation about what the mathtwitterblogosphere is, where it could go, and how it can be more welcoming to newcomers. I really liked Sam’s post because he talks about how it’s different for everyone and you get out of it what you want or need. He’s great at welcoming newcomers and making them feel comfortable contributing.  I joined his new blogger initiation and that’s what moved me from lurker to contributor.  I also really liked Kate’s post on the culture of the MTBoS.  Her comparisons are spot on and very interesting, you should definitely check that one out if you haven’t already.  

Like most things I write here, I feel like someone (or lots of someones) already thought of this and wrote their own similar posts.  But then I write it anyways.  Because this is my blog and I write what helps me.  If I stopped every time I felt like my idea was unoriginal, I wouldn’t have written ANY posts this year.  So here goes:

I think the #MTBoS is like a game.

Ok, so I just got back from ISTE13 and one of the keynotes was by Jane McGonigal.  And I just started reading her book Reality is Broken.  Fifty pages in and it already blew my mind.  So that’s where the idea comes from obviously (or not obviously if you’ve never heard of her), but I think it’s a good comparison.  Here’s why:

1.) You tend to get out of it what you put in.  You can lurk around (like everyone does at first), but then you’re gonna stay at level one.  If you want to “level up” you’ve got to participate.  Joined a conversation: achievement unlocked! You earn two follows and one sweet lesson idea.  Wrote a good blog post: achievement unlocked! You earn two more follows and a worksheet on factoring.

2.) Participation is voluntary.  Why do we put in the extra time here?  To become better teachers?  I would think that would be the most common answer if I gave a survey, but does it really answer the question?  Why are we trying to become better teachers in this specific way?  Especially since…

3.) It can be really hard work.  I put in a lot of time (as I’m sure you do too if you’re reading my little blog) on Twitter and Feedly, trying to get everything I can out of them.  I am constantly checking my feeds on my phone, my iPad, and my computer, at home and at school.  Why so obsessive?  Well, I think it has to do with this:

“Strangers tell me at conferences how much the blogosphere has meant to their practice and their happiness.”  Dan Meyer said that earlier today in a comment on his blog.  That’s it!  Their practice AND their happiness.  Just like gamers wouldn’t keep challenging themselves if it didn’t make them happy, I think members of the MTBoS are putting in the extra hours because it makes them happy too!  Hence…

4.) Intrinsic rewards.  From Reality is Broken: “The scientific term for this kind of self-motivated, self-rewarding activity is autotelic (from the Greek words for “self” auto and “goal” telos“)”.

First, that quote made me think of this clip (a student talking about why he likes to play Minecraft) (Side note: that clip is from this video  by Douglas Kiang which is a wonderful breakdown on what gamer mindsets can teach us about education.)

Second, it made me think about what keeps me putting in the extra hours to keep up with the MTBoS.  Jane McGonigal describes the four intrinsic rewards that are most “essential to our happiness”.  I’ll just direct quote those bad boys here (emphasis hers):

“First and foremost, we crave satisfying work, every single day.  The exact nature of this “satisfying work” is different from person to person, but for everyone it means being immersed in clearly defined, demanding activities that allow us to see the direct impact of our efforts.”

“Second, we crave the experience, or at least the hope, of being successful.  We want to feel powerful in our own lives and show off to others what we’re good at.  We want to be optimistic about our own chances for success, to aspire to something, and to feel like like we’re getting better over time.”

“Third, we crave social connection.  Humans are extremely social creatures, and even the most introverted among us derive a large percentage of our happiness from spending time with the people we care about.  We want to share experiences and build bonds, and we most often accomplish that by doing things that matter together.”

“Fourth, and finally, we crave meaning, or the chance to be a part of something larger than ourselves.  We want to feel curiosity, awe, and wonder about things that unfold on epic scales.  And most importantly, we want to belong to and contribute to something that has lasting significance beyond our own individual lives.”

So, there she was describing what makes us happy, not exactly what about games makes us happy, just in general.  You might read that and think “Yes! And that’s why I am a teacher!!”  So where is the connection between games and the MTBoS?  I think it’s here, where she makes the connection between games and happiness:

“[Games] actively engage us in satisfying work that we have the chance to be successful at.  They give us a highly structured way to spend time and build bonds with people we like.  And if we play a game long enough, with a big enough network of players, we feel a part of something bigger than ourselves – part of an epic story, an important project, or a global community.  Good games help us experience the four things we crave most – and they do it safely, cheaply, and reliably.”

There it is!  Just replace gaming with “math nerd internet time” and she makes a great case for how the MTBoS makes me happy and keeps me coming back for more.


5 thoughts on “#MTBoS as a game: a n00b’s perspective

  1. I love this post (and it even ALMOST made me want to read a book on gaming — but I say almost because I haven’t ever even touched an xbox or I don’t even know if there is a sega out there… wait there’s the wii… I’ve played that once)…

    And because I read this paragraph in my mind so ENTHUSIASTICALLY… also I think it captures so much in so few words.

    “If you want to “level up” you’ve got to participate. Joined a conversation: achievement unlocked! You earn two follows and one sweet lesson idea. Wrote a good blog post: achievement unlocked!”


    • Thanks! I’m not a big gamer in that sense either (I have a Wii, but it mostly gets used to watch Netflix), but that was one of my reasons for the post. I think what I get out of twitter and writing this blog is similar to what some people get out of playing World of Warcraft.

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