When we think of boss battles, we think of our battle with Lavos, Mother Brain, or Ganondorf. They are the last entities that we need to defeat in order to save the world, save a Metroid, or save Hyrule. Though we need to battle these ultimate entities to get to the outcome of the game, subordinate bosses or guardian have an importance in the growth of the user and of the character. These checkpoint bosses are there to check whether or not we are prepared with the necessary skills. When we are not prepared with these necessary skills, the player and the character are not able to progress.

All the NES Zelda 2 Boss Battles

As a fellow gamer, I get a little anxious when I approach a room with a boss and I want to make sure that I level up my character to the max. I’m overly prepared for the boss battle so when the battle happens, it’s literally like “another day in the office.” The player has been conditioned to perform a higher level during the preparation. It’s like prepping up for a boxing match, your training must replicate the level, intensity, and scenerio of an actually match. According to Yu Kai Chou and his Octalysis Framework, boss battle are part of the 2nd Core Drive of Development and Accomplishment. Yu Kai Chou states in his book, Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards, “Games break down user challenges into stages to help the user feel like there is always progress . . . . Games can sustain long forty-hour or even four thousand hour player journeys because they use distinctive stages and boss-fights to recognize user accomplishment along the way.” The player being able to use the skill in the boss battle is not the challenge rather it is the celebration of attaining that skill and using it for something relevant and practical. Learning the skill and using the skill is what’s important. Boss battles are checkpoints and a form of feedback to tell the player whether or not we are prepared to move on to the next step of the journey.

It’s demoralizing we are not understanding a concept or a skills. In a previous blog, From Pain to Power: The Path To Assimilationit takes a level of character development in the area of grit to go from one’s status quo to one’s defined level of personal growth. It’s take grit, to try again and again until mastery happens. But to do that, boss battles are necessary for that growth and development to happen. Jane McGonigal from her book, SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully, states, “In order to become happier or healthier, we need what researchers call psychological flexibility, the courage to face things that are hard for us. We must be open to failure and negative experiences – not just in games but in everyday life. We must know when to retreat and regroup, until we feel ready to try again. In previous post ” The Benefits of Failure “, if we are not failing, then we are playing it too safe.


Boss battles in education are synonymous to both formative and summative assessment. All I am doing is changing the language and changing the feeling of assessments which stems from changing your language from the language of school to the language of adventure. It’s a drag to study for a test or do a project but it’s pretty exciting to see that all the training you did will pay off when you battle a boss.

For instance, in our STEAM:Gaia class, we have one of Gaia’s THREATS that we have to battle – Climate Change to prep up for this boss battle, our Jedi Innovators must explain why climate change is happening and use the design thinking process to design a solution to combat this THREAT. Prior to the boss battle, our Innovators will be looking at ways to lessen the communities carbon footprint. Check out the following link (http://www.teamaringo.org/STEAMblog/category/steam/) to check out bosses, threats, and level guardians that our Jedi Innovators defeated or are in the process of defeating.


Bosses, level guardians, and threats must be different than assessments. Below are some of the essential components of boss battles.

  • When your learners battle something, not only are they preparing for it but they are applying the skill. Students who are fully prepared for the boss battle may battle the boss. If you have students who want to skip to battle the boss, make a mid-level boss where after they have defeated the mid-level boss they a received an item that will give them access to the guardian of that level.
  • Bosses must be challenging. Kind of like a Spartan Race, it’s fun when it challenges our capabilities. If it’s not challenging, why do it? You won’t learning anything from it. Make sure that they are not too challenging to a point where it shuts down your learners. I’ve done that before and I needed to redesign the boss immediately to the level of the students. You’ll have to find a balance and design a boss battle based on the capacity of your learners.
  • If your students fail in a boss battle, they may try again as long as they reflect on their prior actions and inform you, the instructor, of the necessary changes. Make it required that they defeat the boss before they move on.
  • Bosses are assessment that have been personified. Jane McGonigal recommended that you give your boss a name. In our tower shaking challenge, our boss is called the Shakes. In the Neverending Story, we have a boss called the Nothing and in next sequel, the Emptiness. Give it something tangible like a drawing or a phenomenon where students can research it’s weaknesses so they can create a prototype that will capitalize on it’s weakness.
  • The students must go through a process to defeat the boss. This process must be some sort of performance – you are actually doing something beyond filling in a scan tron or filling out a worksheet and turning it in. Your learners must have relevant role and action in that journey.
  • There must be a reward after defeating the boss. Do they get access to another quest. Do they get a treasure, a map, a gem, a magical staff, etc.? What are they going use that item for? How is it going to be useful in future quests?

Game design work needs to take place in order for your boss or level guardian to be a test of one’s skill and an engaging learning challenge.


In the comment box below, let me know what boss you have created. What is it’s name. Describe it’s features, it’s strengths and it’s vulnerabilities. Describe how your students will prepared for this boss battle. How you’ll know when you students are ready for the battle? How will you when they have defeated the boss?

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