Video games show the way

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Video games offer a case study in how to get kids hooked, but it’s not
just the graphics that do the trick. Game designers say they also use
standard motivational strategies that apply to school work, too.

***Start off simple.
Whether it’s blasting space aliens or maneuvering a race car, the first
few levels of a video game are simple enough to give any player a sense
of mastery, explains Jason Della Rocca of the International Game Developers
Association.

If the game is too tough at the start, players give up: “I just picked
up this game, and I’m being beaten left and right. I must really not be
good at this.” In contrast, he says, early success boosts confidence and
invests the player in the game. “They want to beat the fourth race because
they already beat the third race.”

***Slowly raise the bar.
Now that players are flush with victory and craving more, it’s time to
up the challenge. If every race is as easy as the previous one, there’s
no sense of accomplishment and no motivation to improve, Della Rocca says.

 

As players hone old skills, they gradually learn new ones. Steering around
the figure ‘8’ race track on the fourth level is trickier than maneuvering
the single loop on level one. Obstacles appear, requiring the player to
learn a new skill, handling the clutch.

As the skill level increases, so does the intensity or duration of effort
required to master it, adds Della Rocca. “I have to concentrate more.
I have to be more precise with my steering. [Or] the race track is twice
as long, [and] the time I need to be concentrating is twice as long.”

***Reward progress with greater autonomy.
A standard element of game design is to unlock new features and add
more options as the game progresses, he says. “That’s part of the enticement.
The player wants to win the race so he gets more access to the advanced
features.” Choices not only give players a sense of control that further
invests them in the game, but choices also allow the developer to please
a variety of players. “Maybe one kid likes to paint his car blue, and
another kid likes red. It allows a wider audience to make selections that
favor them.”

Elizabeth Duffrin