To understand gamification, watch a 10-year-old

My son Jason, like many 10-year-old boys, loves video games.

He can happily spend hours playing his favorite games, working diligently to reach that next level.

Not every parent is a fan of letting their kids play video games, but I think it’s great.

His passion has driven Jason to become a better researcher (he looks up online guides and watches YouTube run-throughs to improve his technique) and to develop greater patience (though I often hear the complaint, “This game is unfair!” towards the end of some of his longer sessions.

In fact, there’s real science behind why these games are good for him.

Recently, Lifehacker ran a great video of Daniel Pink talking about what motivates us to work hard:

“Pink explains further that there are in fact just 3 very simple things that drive nearly each and everyone of us to work hard:

Autonomy: Our desire to direct our own lives. In short: “You probably want to do something interesting, let me get out of your way!”

Mastery: Our urge to get better at stuff.

Purpose: The feeling and intention that we can make a difference in the world.”

These are three of the main things that video games provide to Jason. He’s autonomous, in the sense that he directs the action, without any instructions or help from his parents.  He’s developing mastery of his games, both in tactics and strategy.  And he feels purpose in that he wants to complete the game and share his triumph with his friends (I’ll admit, it’s not a particularly high purpose, but it is a purpose).

When people talk about gamification, too often they talk about badges and unlocking achievements. They focus on the symbols, rather than the meaning. The irony is that the master game designers have already tapped our deepest human drives–something all those people calling for “game mechanics” need to better understand.

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