Op-Ed: New Generation of Games Can Motivate with Fun and Fame, Not...

Op-Ed: New Generation of Games Can Motivate with Fun and Fame, Not Guilt and Shame

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While I’m accustomed to speaking before large groups, I must admit to being a bit more nervous than usual as it came time for me to give a little talk as a panel member at the Gamification Summit. Still, I guess that was only natural, since most of the people in the audience were about half my age, and the rest of the panel members were all versed in scholastic disciplines, ranging from the Rosetta Stone language learning program to Pearson, a leading provider of educational materials. So I did what I usually do before a talk, which was to take a “moment of meditation” to reflect on the subject at hand, which was how “gamification” can work in education, and what personal perspectives and insights I might have to offer.

Immediately, my mind went back to my fourth grade class at Sacred Heart Academy in Ocean Beach, California, with Sister Joselita standing over my desk, rapping my knuckles with a wooden ruler for not doing my school work correctly. Then I saw myself chastising my own son to use less water or turn the lights off. It hit me that I have been using guilt and shame to try and change behavior, just like Sister Joselita did to me, and how truly ineffective that is.

I suddenly realized that game mechanics are the key to changing our method of motivating kids. Instead of the traditional use of guilt and shame, we can now achieve far better results by emphasizing fun and fame – which is to say, the use of instant rewards and recognition, whether for solving a trigonometry problem or doing something to help save the environment, such as the program we have implemented at Greenopolis to promote recycling.

Returning to my talk at the Summit panel, what I really would like to tell you is not about what I said myself, but about the speaker who preceded us – a Minnesota 3rd grade teacher named Ananth Pai. He gave a passionate talk that makes me want to send anyone that reads this blog to – “An inspirational teacher’s story of making learning fun”. Mr. Pai, a former businessman and investor, got our attention by asking for our help, and while presenting his first slide he actually got teary over the fact that seven out of ten students today graduate at a 3rd grade level in math. He then showed us how he is using video games like “flower power” to increase students’ aptitudes in math and reading. The results are incredible, and I urge you to check out the presentation and video at his site. If anything will convince you about the power of gamification, this is it.

At Greenopolis, we’ve already begun taking game mechanics up several notches since I got back from the summit. All of our recycling kiosks are now registered on Foursquare and we are in the process of allocating rewards for engaging in recycling behaviors at the kiosk. We’re also working on additional gamified programs that will be implemented in an effort to encourage recycling, with some that will be ideal for even Mr. Pai and his 3rd graders. For example, our existing “scan@school” program sends a free laptop and barcode scanner to participating schools, encouraging recycling in the classroom by providing real-world rewards for action into a central account (recycle for free pizza!). Gamification will only help to activate additional participation by pitting students and classrooms against each other in a competition to see who recycles the most. This is only the beginning, and gamification provides us with so much potential to help Mr. Pai and teachers across the nation with tools to encourage positive behavior and participation in the classroom.

Kudos also go to Gabe Zichermann for putting on a great and informative conference, featuring a lot of really smart people talking about everything from Maslows’ hierarchy of needs to B.F. Skinner’s theories on what motivates people and how people think. Somehow, I feel there are going to be some really great things coming from this group of 350 people engaged in developing a whole new generation of games for an unparalleled range of applications.

Anthony Zolezzi is an entrepreneur specializing in sustainable, eco-friendly endeavors whose work has resulted in the creation of more than 25 companies and products, all of which have added value to the two of his cause-related businesses to Fortune 100 companies. He is cofounder of Greenopolis and works with major companies including Waste Management, Inc., Nestlé, Bumble Bee Seafood, Horizon Organic Dairy, Wild Oats Markets, Viacom and Paramount Pictures.

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