Shawn Young, CEO and Founder of Classcraft, Talks Benefits of Gaming Classrooms

An interview with Shawn Young, the CEO and founder of Classcraft, talks about the various benefits of turning classrooms into a livable RPG.

An interview with Shawn Young, the CEO and founder of Classcraft, talks about the various benefits of turning classrooms into a livable RPG.

Every one of us has daydreamed our way through a class or two, wishing we were taking a nap, out with our friends, or anywhere else but listening to a seemingly never-ending lecture. 

Shawn Young, a high school physics teacher, has created an application that will turn the tides of education in a way that’s never been done before– by turning the classroom into a fully functioning role-playing game. 

Classcraft, a computer-based application that separates students into groups and classes such as a Mage or Warrior, creates an entirely new standard of participation by capturing student’s attention with real-life risks and rewards. 

How long have you been teaching high school physics? How long have you spent working on Classcraft?

I have been teaching for 8 years. I started working on Classcraft three years ago, developing a basic platform to use with my students to perfect the game and iron out any kinks in the rules. A year ago, my brother Devin (our creative director) got on board and started working on design and artwork. Then in September, my dad, Lauren came on as CFO and we started to build out a team. We rebuilt the platform from the ground up and released it to the public in February and are now working heard for the September release. 

How has your gaming past influenced Classcraft? Are you a big fan of RPGs?

My love of gaming has had a huge impact on Classcraft! I’m a fan of RPGs,  having played Dungeons and Dragons and scores of video game RPGs. The first one I played was Final Fantasy on the NES, but since then I’ve played most of the major RPGs, including World of Warcraft, Diablo, Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, all the Elder Scrolls games and many, many JRPGs. Classcraft draws from the mechanics of the video game RPG genre to create the same experience of wanting to level up and customize your character. We’re building out new features for the fall that will distill that in an even stronger way.

What part of Classcraft are you most proud of? 

As an educator, teamwork and community are really important to me. School is a collective experience by nature, but an individualistic one by design. We’re all in a room together, sharing an experience, but systemically we are driven to succeed individually. Having a community you can count on and exchange with really contributes to better learning. Classcraft was designed with this in mind and, as a result, really succeeds in making students work together and develop meaningful relationships. I’m also very proud that we’ve managed to transcend borders and find a way to offer it for free, with teachers and students in more than 50 countries around the world now playing the game. 

How significant of an impact do you think Classcraft creates in the everyday classroom?

It can have a huge impact! It completely transforms mundane activities in an ongoing, overarching experience. Kids are more inclined to participate, are having more fun, and are thinking about the game outside of the class. It becomes the fabric that ties the whole class together. This is huge – students have a better learning environment and are working together to overcome the challenges faced in school. The atmosphere in the classroom is radically and instantly transformed.

While we’re on the subject, why do you think the concept is so unique?

Classcraft is the first attempt to gamify school life. Other gamification efforts focus on curriculum, whereas Classcraft focuses on behaviour, motivation and cooperation. It offers something universal, and thus doesn’t depend on the age group or subject matter. It’s the only game to implement real-life risks and rewards, which give a lot more meaning to the game. Also, we were really thoughtful about the design of the game. Classcraft is beautiful, which is rare in educational products, and uses the same language that is used in all RPGs. 

Your website reveals 3 “playable” classes for students to explore. What was your inspiration, and why did you choose these 3?

I built those three classes because they are the core functions needed in a team in MMORPGs : damage (mage), support (healer) and tank (warrior). The powers that were developed for each of these classes reflect those basic functions. The bonus from that is that kids have to work together, just like they to in MMORPGs, to survive. The classes are really well-balanced, which makes the teamwork that much more rewarding.

Classcraft flaunts success stories such as improving grades, on-time arrivals, and more, what do you think attributes most to these triumphs?

Classcraft excels at motivating kids. Research in education shows that motivation is the key to success : a motivated learner will do what’s expected of him in class (and more), which will in turn lead to better performance, which leads to more motivation. Classcraft is the starting point for a cycle of motivated success.

I noticed that real life risk and reward is a major aspect of your application. How important is this factor to Classcraft?

Real-life risk and reward is integral to the game as one of the keys of motivation is to ensure what you’re doing has meaning. By implementing real-life risk and rewards, Classcraft adds meaning to the game, making the consequences of the game real for the students, in a literal sense. 

If there was anything you could say to fans of the application, or people who are interested in Classcraft, what would it be?

Try it out! It’s free, beautiful, easy to use and will transform your classroom. You can create a demo class first, so there is no risk to testing it out. You don’t have to be a gamer to understand it. It’s had a huge immediate positive effect on many classrooms, including my own, and it makes for an unforgettable learning experience. 

Is there anything I left out that you’d like to add?

What’s been really exciting for us is seeing how Classcraft has caught on internationally and watching the growth of a community of forward-thinking teachers from all over the world, from Switzerland to Italy to S. Korea. These are the people whose valuable feedback helps make the game better and with whom we have the privilege of engaging and connecting with every day.  

We love hearing stories about how Classcraft has impacted classrooms. For example, one of our teachers from Texas has seen his students’ confidence increase and grades spike 20% after implementing Classcraft — that’s what makes this all worthwhile. 

Education is ripe for innovation, and we’re seeing first-hand how teachers drawn to Classcraft are pushing learning forward in new ways. 

We plan to offer a free version of Classcraft for as long as we can to give teachers and students — no matter where they are or what type of school they’re in — the opportunity to bring gaming to their learning. 


To get involved with Classcraft, you can visit the website here. 

About the author

Danielle Marie

All I'm saying is, no one's ever seen me and Batman in the same room.