Territory Exploration and Learning: Fortnite and Learning Programs

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Sententia Gamification Chief Motivation Officer

I was in high school when Zork was available on the Commodore 64. My friends and I spent hours a day exploring the imaginary world with a notebook full of what we learned about the realm, the questions to ask, the instructions to give, and so on. 

With only 64K in memory, the only graphics this game had were on the floppy disk case (Yes, I was so cool that I had one of the first floppy drives). Our whole experience we had with this vast underground territory was through typing questions and making decisions on the answers we received.  

Of course, Fortnite is a completely different experience than what I had decades ago, but if we remove all the shooting, the core desire that made Zork fun for me is probably part of what makes Fortnite fun for you (or your children): The core desire I label as Adventure

When Dr. Stephen Reiss was mapping out core human desires. He noticed that everyone has a need to be safe. He labeled this core desire Tranquility because it involves more than just safe from threats; it also includes the avoidance of pain. For Reiss, the word Tranquility connotes a nest where we and our young are physically safe.  

What is interesting about this core desire is that there appears to be neurotransmitters for the opposite situation: Adventure. Many of us not only have a weak desire for safe environments, we get a thrill when we adventure into the unknown. We seem to have more receptors for adrenaline than most people. And we get an endorphin rush, maybe the emotion of Fiero when we conquer the mountain and see what’s on the other side.  

Dr. Reiss actually spent a little time examining Adventure when he noticed some difference in intellectual knowledge (which he identified as the core desire of Curiosity) and exploratory knowledge (like what you do when deciding where to land in Fortnite). He notes that babies and young children love to explore, but in school, only a few are motivated to excel in their studies. He says, that instead of drumming curiosity out of children, teachers are simply satiating a different core desire in the classroom. Children may continue to explore their territories, as Fortnite has shown they do, even while they resist doing their homework.  

As Learning and Development Professionals, most of us are highly motivated by (intellectual) Curiosity. In fact, only five people who have gone through Sententia’s Level 2 Gamification Certification have a weak desire for Curiosity. However, many of the folks we have tested have a strong desire for Tranquility, which means they don’t gain a high level of enjoyment from exploring unknown territories. And with their weak desire for Vengeance, even fewer of them are drawn to shoot enemies and win battles. They don’t get the thrill that I did with Zork or folks do with Fortnite. Therefore, we might overlook the powerful and engaging game mechanic Territory Exploration.  

In other words, you are probably providing a lot of information, but you are not allowing people to explore the territory.  

What if, instead of text, lecture, and quizzes, you laid out the information in a territory that your learners must explore. The information they need to get through the adventure may be hidden under that rock, or perhaps they need to gather these resources to build their fort, or perhaps the loot they need to clear this level is inside that barn over there.  

As my youthful experience with Zork demonstrates, we don’t need a lot of bandwidth to apply the mechanic of Territory Exploration. All I had was a text conversation on the screen. I created the territory with my imagination. We are only limited by our creativity, and perhaps the time and effort it takes to create this kind of learning environment.              

I’d love to hear your ideas on how we can use Territory Exploration in our learning programs. 

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