Gamifying learning activities

We want to gamify everything we do with our children. How can we do that? Probably no schoolbook has an adequate answer here.  I will share my experiences, and what I know. If you can share yours, please do.


The Octalysis Framework is a human-centric gamification design framework that lays out the eight core drives for humans motivation developed by Yu-Kai Chou. 

People, unlike machines, have feelings, insecurities, and reasons why they want or do not want to do certain things.  Gamification optimizes for their feelings, motivations, and engagement,

There are eight core drives in the model. The higher drives usually generate a positive state of mind:

  1. Epic Meaning and Calling. Make the person believe he participates in something greater than him.
  2. Development and Accomplishment. This is an internal drive. Gamify points, badges, and leaderboard.
  3. Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback.  People not only need ways to express their creativity, but also need to see the results of their creativity, receive feedback, and adjust in turn.
  4. Ownership and Possession. The human desire to accumulate wealth and the overvaluing of objects within one’s possession are the results of this drive.
  5. Social Influence and Relatedness. When you see a friend that is amazing at some skill or owns something extraordinary, you become driven to attain the same. Including mentorship, social acceptance, companionship, and even competition and envy.
  6. Scarcity and Impatience. We want something simply because it is extremely rare, exclusive, or immediately unattainable.  This is a sort of torture that motivates obsessive behavior.
  7. Unpredictability and Curiosity. This is the primary core drive behind gambling addictions, but also present in every sweepstake or lottery program that companies run.
  8. Loss and Avoidance. Avoid admitting that everything you did up to this point was useless because you are now quitting.

Gamified grades

Well, some things are already gamified, like school grades. Children have all sorts of anxiety with respect to grades. They are already under a lot of pressure. Here are some common misconceptions:

  • Ignorance. For example, bible studies. This grade is not important, the whole subject is meaningless. Why is it wrong? The school systems sort children based on ALL of their grades and good children get perks. This is like MMORG, where quest requirements are not limited to combat skills.
  • Cheating. If the grade is all that is needed, there is an easy way to get each grade. The problem is a gap that builds up in the understanding of the materials and students’ duties. This is unsustainable, like buying a hacked account without understanding the game mechanics. And you can get banned.
  • Farming. It is possible to get grades simply by solving lots and lots of boring exercises. This can actually work. Unfortunately, it is boring, slow, and ineffective. The motivation is ground and no spare time is left.  It should be used as a last resort.
  • Dramatizing. A single bad great has a negligible effect. There is no need to dramatize everything and fight for every point. Anxiety can be worse than an actual failure.
  • Perfectionism. Spending too much time to get the best result possible, does not provide resources for other developmental activities, which is bad. Typically if someone knows several great games, he will not spend all of his time in one particular game.
  • Avoidance. Some levels feel too hard. Like “I can never do that”. With practice and a smart strategy, these levels become doable. Occasionally we need to see other people perform the task before we can trust ourselves to do it. Here a demonstration of someone else completing the level can actually work.

Learning coping strategies

Fortunately, some of the coping strategies are already available in video games. You might be disappointed that the children spend too much time online, but possibly they are acquiring the skills to cope with the real world. If they do not know English or basic math, they will learn them to ace the games.

Do you think they cannot handle doing some boring task, or simply waiting for their timing? There are plenty of games to teach this.

Your children do not have enough coordination for basketball? Not as important as quick typing and intuitive navigation in the digital world. A good player in DOTA can become a millionaire just like a good basketball player. And the chances of traumas are significantly lower.

Playing games we see events that would be quite dangerous in real life. We succeed in them and evolve.

Play together

Our children learn teamwork doing missions together. We have a huge advantage in the real world, but not in the game world. If we play with them, they can become our mentors and partners in the game world. This is an opportunity to learn each other as equals, or with role reversal. And we have an additional communication channel for our metaphors.

One caution here: do not try to rush things up. When the children are ready they will ask you to join.

Capital investment

A person that has nothing to lose is likely to rebel and become antisocial. I prefer to invest in my children’s equipment. They should really like it and work hard to get it. The reward is for hard work and social skills, not for the school graded or teacher’s praises.

This is well-gamified. You finished a very hard level or worked hard on multiple small achievements and you can get better equipment with access to cooler challenges. We can do the same. All we need to define is a passing criterion. The exact scores do not really matter, as long as the criterion is met.

Gamers love good computers, screens, and keyboards. Programmers and graphic editors love those too. Teach the kids to play, and then they will want to edit videos and build their own games on that equipment.

Gamified self-regulation

Losing games can be an awful experience. It may feel like losing something it took months to build, and in more advanced games this can be true. Small negligence may lead to such loss. The emotional toll, stress, and anxiety are huge. Dealing with these losses we practice self-regulation.

Quite often the trick is too hard for me, and I am a grown man. I refuse to play certain games because they are simply too intense. Children deal with this pressure every day. They cry, they become depressed or angry.

The way we usually deal with it is saying “this is just a game”.  OK, now lose your annual salary in a sudden stock market crash. Will you think “No big deal, this is just money…”. I do not think so. Investors have very good self-regulation because they learn to win and to lose. These are the skills children learn in young age.

Monetize chores

In our family, we are a bit addicted to measurable statistics. If something is not measured, it is probably not important and can be ignored. To deal with it we put a monetary value on some favors. Like, clean your room for 10 dollars.  My kids do not get a budget of pocket money. They work hard to get whatever I am willing to give. Then they can get real objects with monetary value in that money.

One of my early mistakes was 1:1 exchange rate between this virtual currency and real money. This was confusing and generated a lot of objections. Now this virtual currency allows to get things but cannot be exchanged for money. Another mistake was opening up a credit like that was simply too big for my kids. At some point, they gave up. I needed to divide the credit into a short-term payable loan and convertible loan without clear rules. Also, I had to set up a variable exchange rate. Buying music equipment is partially sponsored by me, but buying computer equipment is penalized. With these modifications, the system still works.

Do not gamify feelings

My parents made many crucial mistakes. One of them was gamifying feelings. Like “Say that you love me to get this chocolate”. This had a very confusing effect on me. Until I married Anna I did not know what I feel without a monetary equivalent. This is not a good idea. Specific behaviors may be controlled, but feelings should be honest.

In the same way, do not gamify the things other people love to do. If you give someone money to do what he loves it becomes a job. We have complex relationships with jobs. If you take money for doing what people love doing, they are likely to pay and value it more. But if you ask too much money for some basic fun, they will rebel. Big revolutions start from small tea taxes.



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