6 Motivational Effects of Gaming Among Children

Scarlett Lopez and Jekaterina Privis


Motivation is an abstract, but very powerful concept that is found behind the achievement of goals. This topic can be defined as “a process of identifying a goal which is often based on a gap between the way things are and the way you would like for them to be, developing a strategy including activities and tools that you expect to help you accomplish the goal, exerting purposeful effort to achieve your goal, and finally evaluating and reflecting regarding your degree of success” (Keller, 2010). Motivation has also been defined as “the process of making dreams come true” (Koberg & Bagnall, 1976). In other words, motivation is what drives an individual from point A to point B. The word comes from the Latin root movere, a verb that simply means “to move” (Pintrich, 2003).

The achievement of goals and motivation have a direct relationship, and include experiences such as student learning. Students aim to pass several classes (short term goals) and have an end goal of successfully graduating (long term goal), thus earning a certificate, degree, etc. In order to achieve every goal, there must be a strong motivation element(s) that drives students to succeeding. In contrast, if there is little to no motivation, these short- and long-term goals may be at risk of not being achieved.

Due to its complexity, motivation is a topic that requires ongoing research. Motivation is not only complex, but multidimensional as well, as it encompasses psychological, and social elements. Motivation is a key driver that has the capacity of changing human behaviours and is caused by many different internal and external factors of each individual.  For example, students can have internal motivators that push them to graduate from school, because they know that they will feel accomplished and have a better chance of finding a job in the future. Students can also have external motivators, such as meeting parent expectations.

Within learning experiences, we find that motivation is crucial for success. When we talk about learning experiences, we are not only referring to the education system, but also corporate learning and all other encounters with attainment of knowledge and/or skills. There are tools used in various fields that make motivation easier for learners. The purpose of the following paper is to show the example of motivational effects of game-based learning.

Gaming has been around for several decades. We began to see video games with their “commercial release in the 1970s” (Baxter, 2011). Since then, video games have been progressively used for further purposes other than simply entertainment. Research shows that “interactive games are no longer the sole domain of the stereotypical male teenage gamer, and, as a result, the types of experiences being offered have also diversified” (Baxter, 2011). The benefits of gaming have increased throughout this time in fields such as health, and education. Game elements have been slowly incorporated in learning environments as “online games can also offer a variety of ways to connect with other people, including competitive and cooperative experiences” (Baxter, 2011). Gaming was created mainly for entertainment, but along the way, we found that it also serves as a medium to connect with one another, have engaging experiences and develop skills.

The purpose of this paper is to address the motivational effects of game elements among children learners, providing an overview of research on the topic, as well as presenting recommendations for instructors and instructional designers. People need to start thinking about gaming in terms of its potential to contribute to learners’ lives.

Literature Review

Research has shown that gaming is a great tool as students “participate, and none are passive observers” (Greenblat, 1977). Students directly become engaged with content, due to the fact that they are able to have hands-on experience. This makes the retention of information more effective, in contrast to having some students join as others simply contemplate and do not play an active role throughout the experience. For children, having active roles is essential as their attention spans are shorter than teens and adults. Whatever strategy or tool that will stimulate children into becoming curious and excited about the material, is important when learning.

Gaming and its development has “become a trending topic in educational technology” (Foster, 2008).  It is clear that game elements are a great way to get students engaged in learning complex material, comprehensive learning, and preparing learners for 21st century careers. It is suggested that children in general have a limited learning capacity due to their short attention spans and learning styles. The use of visuals and sounds are always great tools to aid each learning experience during pre-school and elementary education. All these tools can be found integrated in gaming. Children are found motivated and engaged throughout their learning experiences as many factors that appeal their attention are embedded in gaming.

In regards to the effectiveness of gaming and learner motivation, we may find claims about teaching and gaming, “including increases in (a) motivation and interest, (b) cognitive learning, (c) skills of various sorts, (d) affective learning (e.g. attitude change, empathy), and (e) creation of a more effective learning environment” (Greenblat, 1977). Within gaming, we find concepts such as the “Super Mario Effect” (Lorant-Roye et al., 2010), that shifts the focus of simply falling into pits to save a princess, to sticking with a task and therefore, learning more. This strategy doesn’t present failure in a negative light, but rather motivates players into learning more and having more success, therefore framing the learning process.

Scientists of University of Rochester have concluded that people who played action based video games made decisions 25% faster than people who played slower going easier strategy games because in the game you have to think quickly or be killed (Hubert‐Wallander et al, 2011). Games such as Minecraft, popularly played on the web by children as young as 5 years old, cultivate creativity. In regard to social skills, Xbox Live helps people to keep in touch around the globe. Studies have shown that there is a common perception of gamers as wound-up loners sitting in a basement, but the reality is that gamers have really tight social lives, and network with people around the world.

It can be affirmed that this observation is deeply interesting. With this new gaming strategy, people do not concern themselves with failure, but rather focus on asking how they could change their gaming strategy to become more successful. What could they do differently? What method worked during the game and what did not? Both of these questions revolve around learning. The learners’ center of attention lies in beating the game and getting to the next level. By not focusing on failures, children develop a new attitude that results in improvement of learning.

Research has found that the structure of massive multiple online role-playing games, also known as MMORPGs, support intrinsic motivation and serves as a basis for creating learning design (Dickey, 2007). There has also been exploration of subtopics such as student engagement and contributions based on gamified learning involvement. This has shown that the influence of gamified processes on learner engagement varies depending on whether the person is motivated intrinsically or extrinsically. All these findings “help to create educational contexts” (Buckley & Doyle, 2016).

Practical Recommendations for the IDT Community

After examining the research on motivational effects of gamification with a focus on children, researchers can suggest the following recommendations. Firstly, we want to reiterate that the use of gaming-simulations used as learner motivation has been positively viewed and is continuously evolving. Children learners have a higher motivation “when they use the interdisciplinary design of videogames as a way of learning instead of traditional learning methods” (Molins-Ruano et al., 2014). Secondly, gamification has an incredible effect, especially on children learners, due to their role as active learners.

The reframing of assignments can make a clear difference. Students will engage with learning material that has appealing visual aspects. Providing interactive assignments, including gaming-like experiences is a good way to arouse student’s creativity and to awaken their curiosity. And then instead of using words, we represent the tasks students needed to accomplish visually. It can be noted that the output is the exact same: learners have to push buttons in a very specific manner to move on to the next page or level, as the structure of game element support. Sometimes people have framed the act of learning science in a negative way. It has been taught poorly, so it feels scary to students. An instructional designers approach is to take the same physical lessons learners might have disliked to try and sort of trick them into learning something through something appealing.

By reframing the learning process and focusing on the end goal, the learners’ fear of failure is often taken off the table and learning becomes more natural. It is true, but often in life we tell ourselves that the top goal is what we want, and that is what we expect. When a learner faces failure as a bad grade on a test, the person loses motivation, tells himself that he is not good enough or not smart enough.

Students need to be motivated along with their learning experiences and “at the same time have the ability to solve the challenges” (Muntean, 2011). We want the challenges in our lives to look as a goal sign at the destination, but that is boring. Where is the risk and the reward? Where is the challenge? Students, who use gamification do not see failing in a negative light, they make more attempts to solve the task. Naturally, they see more success and therefore learn more. The trick to learn more and have more success is finding the right way to frame the learning process. We need to frame the learning process in such a way that learners do not concern themselves with failure, but rather ask how much success they could have and how much more could they learn.


Parents might think that their children play too many video games, but they may not be playing enough. The fact is, we have a lot of  problems in our world. Just to name a few, we have poverty, extinction of species, and environmental destruction to our planet. To aid our problems, we are going to need children who are strategic, creative and have great motivational skills. Children play as a team, while creating strategies and encouraging each other. Learning what strategies work, and which do not work, leads to negotiating with team members. Gaming can encourage children to communicate with each other, brainstorm ideas and develop teamwork skills.

The concept of “gaming” is more than just having a positive attitude or never giving up because it implies that you are having to endure against your true desire to quit. It feels like when you frame a challenge or a learning process in a gamified way, you strive to complete it.  Game elements teach us to understand the failures and encourage us to try again. This is similar to how a toddler will want to stand up and walk again, similar to the Super Mario Effect. Most players are not getting paid to do that nobody is forcing or watching them. Their outlook made it, so they wanted to keep trying and learning.

There are lots of other examples where the attitude of life game elements, such as the Super Mario Effect, led to more success and therefore more learning. A lot of people develop that principle and map that in their lives. By shifting a focus to the “princess” and threatening your life’s challenges like video games, you can trick your brain to learn more and see more success. Our future will be filled with technological advancements, so we believe that restriction of technology would hinder children’s ability to develop critical skills necessary to build a better world. We should let children play the games they want to play, while also incorporating game-based strategies during their elementary education. In conclusion, we definitely recommend applying gaming to education to make it a more motivating, engaging and authentic field.


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