Motivation in a gamified world.

Can we gamify everything, and if we do, will it still appeal to learners?

Part of my own intellectual journey, as a teenager, was rejecting games. Is it generational, or a more universal aspiration to move on from child- to adulthood ? I don’t know.

I was born in 1978 from young ‘hip(pish)’ parents, and so find myself on the cusp of Gen X and Y. I grew up with computers, and developed a moderate video game addiction from the age of about 10. My upward mobility consisted of transitioning from Nintendo to Atari, then on to a proper PC with Sierra Online adventure games, Ultima series role playing games, and – best of all – Sid Meyer’s Civilisation. Beside, I read massive amounts of literature, watched enormous quantities of TV, and got good grades. I even joined a theatre club – altogether, a balanced early teenager life, if slightly nerdy.

When I hit grade 11 (‘Premiere’ in France), I changed schools to join a special ‘humanities’ class. At that time, I resolved I would focus on reading and study, and give up the computer entirely. I replaced Ultima with ‘teach-yourself-Latin’, and Civilisation with history books. For the next four years, I lived entirely without computers. At 18, I even rejected TV, reducing my screen-exposure to cinemas only.

This rejection was part of my growing up, and I clear remember it as a kind of ‘rite of passage’: leaving the game-screens of childhood behind, as I got rid of my transformer robots around the age of 10, and move on to the world of adults.

I suppose, this was a transitional period, before Facebook and iphones. But I still wonder: what will mark the passage to adulthood, when children grow up in a world of gamified screens?  In ‘a day made of glass‘ , the tools used by children, teachers, doctors and parents are strangely similar. Children inhabit a pre-adult world of high-tech, while adults occupy a gamified world of touch-screens. What will actually motivate these children to study? Or in this ideal high-tech worlds, is there perfect continuity between childhood and adulthood?

I remember reading the following thought in a book on education by Alain: that there should be a distinction between the class-room and the playground; that children do need to relax and play – but also need the possibility to go beyond childish play, to feel the awe for a difficult intellectual task. The same point appears, in a various form, in Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy. Education is about change, and this change goes beyond ergonomic playfulness. How will online education deal with this question? What will motivate learners to learn, if they have nothing to aspire to, beyond the fun of the game? Or am I just saying this is it because I was trained before MOOCS, or in France – and therefore a bit antiquated myself?

One thought on “Motivation in a gamified world.

  1. Julien,

    Bravo on the Marco Polo project, just reading up on it.

    Also caught that you are learning Chinese. Me too… my work is an app called nommoc (, let me know what you think of it? Let’s chat when you get a minute @nommoc_app

    Anyway, stay working! Non-Profits are the real deal!


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