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Family, Fireworks, and Fun

adult learning behavioral science corporate training motivation Jul 02, 2019

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

Visualize this:  It’s the Fourth of July in the United States. You are at a park awaiting the setting sun and the fireworks. You are sitting on a blanket and have a picnic next to you waiting to be consumed. And let’s assume the weather is delightful (not the heat-wave most experience in reality).    

Are you there alone? If not, who is with you?    

For many people, this celebration involves the family—specifically, their children. They can’t understand why you would be at a park, watching fireworks, without your children running around.    

And then there are those for whom the bands of brats, roaming around the park, making noise and messes is a distraction from a perfectly good evening and a celebration of independence.    

In his landmark study, Steven Reiss, PhD, noted, among other things, that people have different levels of motivation to raise children. While we certainly have biological drives to procreate, actually raising children is a different and specific desire. For some people, their children are central to their lives; others are content to be childless.    

This article is not about raising children; instead, it’s about people’s different definitions of fun and what this might mean for the gamification of learning.    

As children, we learned through play, not just in the social sense, but studies have shown that the connections between our neurons were developed through play (and continue to be developed through play as adults). It is to the advantage of our offspring if we and other adults engage with them in play. Thus, playing with children is an aspect or manifestation of the Core Desire for Family.    

It’s important to point out that playing with children has a specific dynamic that is unlike, say, playing Wizards Unite. Even if you’re playing video games with children, you are having a different experience (hopefully) than if you were playing by yourself or with your peers.     

Since I have a low motivation for Family, I missed this type of fun before writing Deliberate Fun. As I began associating specific game mechanics with different Core Desires for the book, it was my belief that, like the Core Desire for Eating, Family could only be satisfied with the actual raising of children. This is an example of “self-hugging.”    

It turns out, the type of neurochemical rewards we get from playing with children can be simulated with certain game mechanics. The most closely associated is the mechanic of mentorship. In a game, the mentorship is when a more experienced player (or an avatar with more skills or lives) takes care of, shields, or guides a newer or weaker player. While not actually a parent, the mentor is experiencing fun, at least from a brain-chemical perspective, the same as an adult playing with children. The mechanic of mentorship satiates the desire to raise children, at least for the duration of play.    

If you perceive that your learners may be motivated by raising and playing with children, how can you implement the game mechanic of mentorship in your learning programs? This does require certain status recognition between skilled or experienced players and those who are newer to the process, but in many workplaces, this difference exists. It’s important to realize that if a learner is motivated by Family, for them, mentoring another will actually be fun (but not so much for those with low motivation for Family). 

How about you? When you’re at that picnic, do you join in with the children? Sit, smile, and enjoy the exuberance? Or roll your eyes wishing parents would take care of their brats? It’s all a matter of different levels of motivation.

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