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Intrinsic Motivation and Gaming

I started out playing adventure and platforming games on PC. One of the things I have always enjoyed about games is trying to find all the available and/or secret content the programmers managed to put in. With adventure games, sometimes getting stuck on a puzzle meant you had to click on every possible thing on the screen or try every possible combination of inventory item you could think of. The programmers sometimes made something unusual and fun happen when you tried one of those things even if it didn’t do anything to help you progress.

The proliferation of game articles and videos documenting game Easter eggs shows that I’m not the only one who wants to experience everything that a single game could possibly give a player. It’s the thrill of finding out whether a darker texture on a wall is actually a secret doorway, or if you’re allowed to interact with another character in a non-scripted way, and then finding out if the developer had made anything for you to experience once you’ve tried it.

Recently, I have been playing a type of 2D platforming game that slowly gives your character ability upgrades. In the meantime, you can also see collectable items in the game environment that are just out of your reach, or in a place you’re not able to access yet. This means you’ll want to eventually return to places you’ve already visited because your new abilities will allow you get to new areas branching from old ones.

Now, that motivation to explore, to find out more, if only we could apply that to workplace learning today.

Games can appeal to both types of learners (the extrinsically motivated and the intrinsically motivated), and gamification can make your material exciting and interesting to both types of learners as well. There are a lot of learners who are motivated by competition or rewards to do a task, otherwise known as extrinsic motivation. Learners who are motivated to do a task because they find it fun, exciting or enjoyable are intrinsically motivated.

In most cases, it’s easy to appeal to the extrinsic learner by adding awards, badges, leaderboards and other rewards that can be counted and compared to other learners. Ways to appeal to an intrinsic learner could include giving them options and avenues of exploration. A lot of material is presented as a single avenue – railroading the learner through an infodump.

A better way to present your information is to think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure novel, with many choices that take the learner to different information paths. An intrinsic learner will want to reread a choose-your-own-adventure to find all the possible endings. Giving the learner a sense of what they haven’t found yet also incentivizes them to look for this content.

So think about who your learners are, how people enjoy different aspects of gaming, and you can make your training engrossing and fun for all learning styles!

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