Creating Engagement through Seven Principles of Video Games

Parents, coaches, and educators loathe video games for the very reason that makes video games successful: Video-game makers know how to engage children (and adults). They study the best ways to engage users and tweak games to make the games more engaging. Rather than complain about video games, educators, coaches, and league administrators should attempt to learn from the games, as I have written previously, because video games offer some positives for youth development.

In the video below, Tom Chatfield describes the ways in which video game designers engage players through an understanding of psychology and neurology.

In his talk, Chatfield highlights seven ways that video games engage players:

  1. Experience bars measuring progress
  2. Multiple long and short term aims
  3. Rewards for effort (credit for trying; don’t punish mistakes)
  4. Rapid, frequent clear feedback
  5. An element of uncertainty – 25%
  6. Windows of enhanced attention
  7. Other people

In his talk, he makes up a game to illustrate his ideas. He says the game is to get 15 cupcakes. He says that a game designer could pick any number to create the game, but 5-20 works best. If a game has too many challenges, players lose interest. There needs to be some payoff for the effort, and if the game looks never-ending, it becomes de-motivating.

From a psychological perspective, many of these seven ways have to do with competence. The experience bar is not unlike the belt system in martial arts. The belts signify progress and an ascension to a new level. Few sports leagues have the same type of progressive system. Children get promoted based on age. There is no real system to demonstrate a player’s progress throughout a season or throughout a season in specific skills or overall skill level. 180 Shooter was designed around this idea with t-shirts to match the levels of progression. However, in most cases, progression is measured through the eyes of a parent, coach or the player, or through the basic stats (ppg). Both of these measures can be distorted or fail to reflect true skill development in all the players. Since demonstrated competence is important for retention, confidence, and motivation, creating an experience bar could be one way to make the sports experience more like video games and increase engagement.

 By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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