[Gamification of Parenting] Game On!

A long-time fan of gamification has applied it to parenting, and shares the methods of his madness–I mean, success.

via Atty. John Gary U. Teves, sunstar.com

For almost two years now, I have been actively following gamification and have been convinced that this is the next revolution that will change our attitude towards work, business marketing and possibly overall lifestyle as well. Nonetheless, after learning the basic concept, I put it on the after-burner intending to use in some future time.

Never did I imagine that a day will come when gamification will come in handy in dealing with our kids at home. Our kids are 10 and 6 years old and like most precocious kids, are a bit handful at times when it comes to finishing meals; waking up early; answering Kumon worksheets on time; eating vegetables; packing away things; drinking enough water; doing homework; among others.

Enter gamification

We noticed that if we challenge them to a contest with time limitations, most often than not, they take it not just for the reward but for the thrill of finishing first. After some polishing, these contests become more creative while the rewards can be as simple and intimate as a hug and a kiss from us, proof that it is the challenge that piques their interests than the reward.

Just so you may know, the rewards we give out can be as mundane and simple as a 15-minute use of the iPad with games restricted to educational math apps, to the chance to sleep beside mommy, the most favored parent (of course) during sleeping time.

This style of parenting can be credited when I chanced upon the book Game-Based Marketing by Gabe Zichermann and Joselin Linder. Challenges, clear objectives and, more importantly, rewards, all under a rigid time frame are the game principles discussed in the book.

Games allowed our kids to channel their energies to “friendly” games, even developing virtues of “doing your best”, focus and resilience.

It all started when US psychologists and scientists searched for what motivates kids.

Whiz-bang video games

Clear challenge, visible leaderboard, superficial rewards…these are the key gaming principles in every successful game. With the advent of social media, some game developers have taken these principles for a spin on Facebook and web browsers to boost visibility, access, excitement and marketing.

Despite the general public reaction to video games as a time-waster and a “bad” influence for kids and teens, research is beginning to unravel the beneficial effects of these games. Studies are now underway to fully uncover why most kids enjoy their video games and how best to adopt these game principles and truly unleash their potential to improve lives.

Researchers observed that kids who play these games usually:

1. Have their “game face” on, showing signs of focus;
2. Employ repetitive trial and error techniques;
3. Engage in multiplayer social games with teams of other different players;
4. Reach rewards and achieve “epic win”.

Game face

Game designer and advocate of gamification Jane McGonigal presented her observations at the influential TED Talks event discussing her observations on the actual faces of gamers engrossed in playing games. As the game progresses, McGonigal observed that the gamer adapts to the intensity level with increasing focus.

These facial expressions show the ability to adjust focus as the level of difficulty increases, developing mental toughness similar to athletes getting “into the zone” in a competitive environment.

Trial and error technique

Gamers advance to the next game level after they get more familiar with game employing more and more techniques as the level of difficulty increases. This trait is easily identified as the age-old technique of trial and error. Gamers become more ‘challenged’ as they learn how to adapt to each level of difficulty. These levels become individually unique platforms to even further increase their skill level.

Despite the increasing risk of failure or defeat, kids realize that it is only a video game and it would be okay to lose, to get back and do better the next time. This can develop the ability to learn from mistakes, being resilient, persistent and patient, all critical to meet life’s challenges.

Let’s face it, as adults, we mostly learn our lessons after experiencing defeat or loss. As they say, hindsight is always 20/20 vision.

Games have become ‘social’

The newest craze, Angry Birds, has recently been updated to play on Facebook. All social games have the function to involve teams of different players playing on the same level while simultaneously share comments and scores through social media.

Young gamers have also become team players, sometimes taking leadership roles enhancing social skills and the ability to effectively plan, communicate and execute.

Reaching reward and on the verge of an epic win

These days, kids and teens use internet terms “epic win” or an “epic fail” to stress how they feel for something.

For McGonigal, in the context of gaming, an “epic win” is best described in a gamer’s facial expression on the verge of an epic win, showing pure and powerful sense of excitement, expectation and complete focus. This emotional state is what makes great games stick and is the objective of the gamification principle.

Another way of putting it, winning against thieving pigs, ghoulish zombies, fire-breathing dragons, enemy armies, etc. and reaching the top spot on the best scores leaderboard can make any gamer want to engaged in the same task over and over again.

Every parent wants their kids to be strongly motivated and truly passionate about their dreams and ambitions. An epic win after every milestone in life can pretty much reveal how kids enjoy the journey, as well as allow parents invaluable “metrics” to further improve the experience.

Gamify parenting

We were once kids and most of us grew up playing Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Pong, Donkey Kong and Mario Brothers and, had a heck of a good time playing them, mostly until dinner time.

The game mechanics for these hit games are still around, this time with better graphics, sounds and algorithmic codes.

Let’s gamify parenting, become gamers ourselves the way we have always been. This way, our kids can focus their attention at us allowing us to use our precious family time with them as they grow up. Once we tune in with our kids and allow the game mechanics to run its course, we can proceed to gamify the entire household as well, including house chores and our relationship with household helpers. It may not pan out for us parents every time but at least it is a challenge and is going to be rewarding and fun! Reaching this point, we can then afford the much coveted “me time”.

Who knows, in time, our government can also adopt gaming principles, increasing health care, tax collection, law enforcement and overall governance.

Game on!

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