How ‘gamification’ can build motivation


Professor Lee Sheldon of Indiana University turned his classroom into a videogame. Students selected their own virtual avatars, joined guilds and completed quests. Instead of receiving letter grades, students earned XP, a common videogame acronym that stands for experience points.

The experiment was a resounding success. Sheldon wrote in his book, “The Multiplayer Classroom”:

“As that semester progressed, I began to see the fun of learning the students were experiencing and how much more fun teaching felt to me. When the grades improved and class attendance headed toward a record high, I began to ask myself, ‘Why haven’t we been designing classes as games for a long time now?’”

“Gamification,” or using game design and mechanics to enhance non-game contexts, has been rising in popularity over the last few years. Smartphone apps such as Epic Win make completing to-do lists oddly entertaining and — of course — epic. Foursquare offers its users flashy badges for being the first of friends to check into a particular restaurant. Even the satisfaction of receiving holes in a punch card can be considered a form of gamification.

Unlike games, the main point of gamification isn’t to have fun — it’s to build motivation by making something fun. Gamification has the ability to motivate people to work harder, craft their skills and accomplish more tasks.

How do you bring gamification into your teen’s life?

Teenagers — especially teenagers with mental health issues — aren’t known for having the most consistent levels of motivation. For this reason, parents and teachers may find that gamification is a helpful way to keep them on track.

Here are just a few of examples of how to integrate gamification into a teen’s daily life.

  1. Read “The Multiplayer Classroom

Since his first gamification class at Indiana University, Sheldon has continued to use gamification to motivate his students. He knows which methods tend to work and which methods tend to flounder. His book, therefore, provides an excellent guideline for how to successfully turn the real world into a game.

  1. Gamify homework

It may sound like a technique that belongs in kindergarten, but providing rewards and incentives for completed homework can make a world of difference. These rewards don’t even need to be physical — just look at Khan Academy, a revolutionary learning website that encourages continued hard work with digital badges.

  1. Use engaging smartphone apps

Epic Win isn’t the only app that encourages people to treat work like a game. SuperBetter helps individuals improve their mental health by completing power-ups and special quests, such as taking a walk around the block or drinking a glass of water. Streaks encourages its users to perform six good habits a day by rewarding them for each consecutive day they complete the habits.

Gamification won’t work for everyone, but for some people, it can make all of the difference. Why not give it a shot?

White River Academy is a therapeutic boarding school designed to help teen boys who struggle with substance abuse, mental illness and other behavioral disorders. Our specially trained clinicians and teachers work with each adolescent to both identify — and treat — their conditions. Early intervention is essential, since clinicians can provide therapeutic remedies before behavioral patterns get set in stone. For more information, contact us at our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Courtney Lopresti, M.S., uses her scientific background to write online blogs and articles for a general audience. At the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her Master’s in neuroscience, she used functional neuroimaging to study how the human cerebellum contributes to language processing. In her spare time, she writes fiction, reads Oliver Sacks and spends time with her two cats and bird. Courtney is currently located in Minneapolis. 

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