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Harness the Power of Video Games

Harness the Power of Video Games

How many times have you told your child to go and play a video game? I suspect never — the issue is more than likely the opposite — you can’t get them to stop to playing video games. If these games are so engaging and motivating perhaps it makes sense to explore the reasons why this is so and extract what lessons we can from them. Think about how your child gets involved in these games… they can play for hours postponing food, drink, bathroom breaks, accomplishing difficult tasks despite failures and setbacks in their single-minded quest. Imagine if this same focus and perseverance was applied to other tasks such as school work and music lessons. I believe there are lessons we can learn from video game playing to understand how to engage drive and motivation.

Daniel Pink in his book, “Drive” outlines that for tasks to be motivating and drive us forward they need to have three key factors:


  • some degree of choice and self-control
  • feel that the goal is attractive


  • task must be challenging without becoming overwhelming
  • provide immediate feedback
  • it must tap into that desire to get better and better at something that really matters
  • only engagement can produce mastery
  • there is nothing so sweet as the feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing a challenging, worthwhile task


  • the task serves a bigger purpose and can tap into an inner emotion

Bottom Line:

  1. does it attract me
  2. is the energy I will have to put forth realistic
  3. will I be successful

When I talk with gamers about the appeal of gaming, they tell me what keeps them going level after level is something like this…” everything I do in the game lets me know immediately if something I did works or not. I either fail or succeed.” There is immediate feedback and immediate cognitive rewards. The appeal of video games is clear to see. Every game includes the ingredients for motivation…. Attractive, Realistic amount of energy and chances of Success are good. In video games, as the players work through the levels and the gameplay, they begin to understand the essence of the game and what works and what doesn’t. Every misstep teaches them what not to do again. They are always clear on their endgame, on what constitutes achievement and they are allowed to develop their own strategies to reach it. Mastery is clearly established in the feedback loop which is immediate and definite. Transferring the motivational theories found in video games to an academic setting is a challenge but nevertheless possible.

Human motivation is a complex subject, but what may be derailing many of our students could be quite simple: the lack of clear short-term goals with purposeful objectives and the absence of immediate feedback and reinforcement. All human behavior is motivated. Even the child who appears to be unmotivated is actually motivated. A student’s refusal to do homework may actually be motivated by fear of failure, fear of embarrassment or perfectionism. Homework should have components of choice — when, where and with whom. The feedback loop has to be closely tied to the work’s completion so adjustment and corrections can be made in order for lessons to be learned.

If attractiveness, effort, and ability to accomplish the goal are present, the student will likely be motivated.

Here are a few suggestions:

Autonomy +Attractiveness

  • Give choice about where and when homework will be done
  • Encourage doing homework with a friend (study buddy)
  • Encourage variety about where homework can be done — kitchen, dining room table, public library
  • Allow them to use music with ear buds to block out distracting noise
  • Music should not have lyrics
  • Provide challenges with a timer

Mastery + Effort

  • Assist in breaking larger assignments and study efforts into smaller segments
  • This term is closing in very quickly — study notes should be made now (little by little)to avoid unrealistic effort and being overwhelmed in June
  • Always allow for free time and rest — studies have proven that long stretches of studying only decrease the retention and effectiveness — retention is improved when studying is done in 30 minute intervals with short exercise breaks in the middle — use the free computer app BREAK PAL
  • Check to be sure the tasks are clearly understood
  • Give feedback as soon as possible

Purpose + Goal

  • Find areas of natural passion and talent
  • Discuss times when they have had the perseverance to overcome obstacles and use those ingredients
  • Break goals into smaller, more achievable units so feedback and recognition is more immediate

Harness the Power of Video Games
To support your student in using the attractive features of video games to complete their homework between now and the end of the school year, problem solve ways they can make their homework appealing — have a study buddy, work in a new location, time the work, begin with some exercise, do the work for a defined period of time and then relax. Clarify that they understand what to do, what is expected and that they have the materials to do the work. Discuss with them times in their past, perhaps in sports, when they have worked hard and achieved that sweet feeling of success.

Try playing with word equations such as:

Completing homework + _________________= good report card.

What missing ingredient can they add?

Motivation: Lessons From the Olympians

The following note was written by a youngster with a learning disability.

The Way I Learn and What I Think About It

By: Jason, Age 12


I would like to express my thoughts and feelings about learning differences. I’m learning disabled. I learn best by using my body, saying what I need to learn verbally, and making songs to help me. Sometimes it is hard for me not to doubt myself. Some of my strengths are I am strong in English. I’m good with other people. Also I am good in many physical activities. One of the downsides of learning differently is that it takes me a lot longer to do or learn things. I think being LD means that it takes someone a little longer to learn some things than another person. Also I think it means the teacher needs to find other ways to teach you. People with learning differences are the same as everyone else, but when it is time to take a pencil, paper and do their work they may need help from a teacher, and someone else may not. If you are LD, you can reach your goals; you just may need to try a little harder.

Jason’s story could be repeated by all of your children I am sure. If anyone ever says a learning disabled child is lazy then they have never attempted to understand what it is like to hold focus while their mind is racing off at super speeds, or following a twisted path such that at the end you can’t remember where you began or listening to the teacher talk and not understanding what she has said, or starting off down the hall on an errand and remembering only the last instruction, or having to think if the letter b is the one that has the stick that goes up & ball to the right or the ball that goes down or the stick that goes down or … or….. This is why it takes longer! Your children try harder and experience fewer successes than their non learning-disabled peers. When you ask them what they like about school they often have to think. We all must play to their strengths and give them credit for their successes.

How far would our Olympians have gone if we constantly pointed out their shortcomings? Imagine the lessons that these athletes could teach us all:

  • Alex Bilodeau: It’s about inclusion and being totally inspired by his brother Frederic, who has cerebral palsy.
  • Joannie Rochette: The courage to keep chasing your dream amid great adversity.
  • Jenny Ciochetti and Ryan Blais, the bobsledder and aerialist who both fell painstakingly short of making the Olympic team but still came to support their teammates.
  • Clara Hughes: How finding your passion can rescue you from a dead end path.
  • Jasey-Jay Anderson: Never give up. Stay true to yourself.
  • Brian McKeever: Refusing to let a disability define you. Handling a setback with class.
  • Jon Montgomery: ADHD perseverance, dedication and focus despite impulsivity.

In this last term of the year, we have to encourage every student to find their own personal, inner Olympian so they are able to successfully reach the finish line of the academic marathon.

“We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee”— Marian Wright Edelman