First it was Angry Birds and now its Candy Crush Saga. If not yourself, I guarantee that you know at least one person who is or was obsessed with either of these games.
But what is it about these games that makes them so addictive? What is it about them that makes you want to continually achieve more?
More surprisingly, what is it about these games that make you try and try again, perhaps with even more determination upon failing a level until you pass it?
Where exactly does this unwavering motivation even come from?
Now imagine if we could transplant these qualities into people’s learning behaviours within e-Learning courses?
We would have a super learners that always strive for perfection and eagerly press on even when they fail.
Why Do Games Motivate Us?
Having attended Educause 2013 this October and been audience to Jane McGonigal’s fantastic speech on Gamification, I picked up quite a few insights as to why this occurs.
For one, games evoke positive emotions and that is why we so easily gravitate towards them.
Pride, joy, creativity, curiously, excitement, love, relief, awe, and wonder are amongst the distinct positive emotions we experience when playing games.
This is because gaming activates the brain positively through direct interactivity, decision making, and immediate feedback in comparison to passive experiences such reading a book, listening to a lecture, or watching videos.
In fact Jane touched on a study that showed that if you could experience 3 positive emotions for every 1 negative emotion, you would become considerably more resilient in all areas of your life.
Also, in a game there are always clear objectives that have an immediate reward attached to them. Whether it be getting a high score, being able to proceed to the next level, powering up your characters abilities, earning in-game currency to purchase items, or some other incentive, the idea of succeeding at a challenging task, making progress, or building or achieving something seems to be a innate motivator for us as humans. Now combine this with perhaps an interesting story, great characters, and imaginative landscapes and you create a truly addictive experience. And since this is an experience you are actively part of, it is easier to become immersed in what you are doing and your individual experience becomes more personalized.
Then of course there is the collaborative or social aspect of gaming. Simply put, many games are competitive by design and those that are good at them earn some bragging rights for achieving things within them.
From high scores, to hard to acquire items, to special achievements or badges earned from completing challenging tasks, having social recognition from a group of our peers is a powerful motivation to do things.
How Can Games Improve e-Learning?
The number one thing that gaming promotes is creativity – That is, gamers are allowed to explore their own solutions to in games problems and thereby are more likely to recall what they learned.
However, probably the most powerful element of gaming is that it allows the player to try things without fear and negative consequence and benefit from immediate feedback. Take for example Angry Birds.
If you fail at a level you simply just hit the reset button over and over trying different flight patterns and combinations each time until you eventually pass the level. In fact each time you play, you have a better understanding of the problem having learned what doesn’t work and perhaps even what almost worked. From there you combine all your experiences or figured out variables regarding the problem and then test your next hypothesis until you’ve arrived at a solution that works.
Now compare this experience to a standardized online test in any education or workplace setting. If you fail the test well that’s pretty much it.
You get a failing grade and immediately there is a strongly negative notion attached to that. You may get to retake the test but now the expectation for you to pass is even greater.
But what if you could tackle the problem in your own way and experiment without fear until you find a valid solution? In fact what if the test was actually an intriguing scenario that put you in the role of an interesting character?
Even better, what if you’re colleagues were also playing this “game” and your scores and achievements could be shared or you could work collaboratively to improve your respective individual scores?
Of course this is just the tip of the ice-berg in this emerging field and the future is still bright with possibilities for how education can be blended with games to facilitate real learning experiences. But its up to us educational professionals to take the next step in creating these experiences.
If you’ve had some experiences with gamification in education I would love to hear about your findings or ideas in the comments section below.