Comments on Tom Chatfield: Seven Ways to Reward the Brain

For those who haven’t seen video game theorist and author Tom Chatfield on Ted Talk (see embedded video at the bottom of this page), it’s worth a review. To quickly summarize his ideas:

1) Digital games (console and computer-based) will soon be an $84 billion/year business (projected 2014).
Virtual, in-game objects already represent an $8 billion/year business.

2) Web-based games are harvesting a treasure trove of precisely recorded human behavior in a wide variety of online game environments, and interesting discoveries are being made regarding the nature of human attention and fundamental brain rules. These discoveries are important for understanding what motivates people to learn, and how to optimize engagement. In his TED talk he calls some of these video game discoveries the Seven Ways to Reward the Brain.

These include:
Experience bars that measure progress where an avatar player character is “constantly progressing in tiny increments”. Chatfield calls these “calibrated small tasks”.

- Multiple long and short-term aims – engaging in multiple tasks simultaneously – people can choose between them in parallel.

- Rewards for effort – in the form of points, “gold”, credit, recognition, awards, etc. He says the principle regarding this is “You don’t punish failure – you reward every bit of effort.”

- Rapid, frequent, clear feedback.

- The element of uncertainty. For Chatfield, this is a key principle. If a reward is unpredictable and variable it “lights up the brain”. It activates dopamine, the natural pleasure-producing chemical in the body. Chatfield says: “When we can’t predict something with certainty, we become obessed with it.”

- Brain activity models based on brain states generated during video game play can now “predict windows of enhanced attention.” Engaged brain activity can be measured and predicted.

- We are social animals and enjoy doing stuff with other peers – who watch us, collaborate, give us feedback.

Check out his video. You can see these principles  being used consciously and deliberately for online educational sites such as Boise State’s innovative 3D GameLab, which I’ve just begun to use this summer.

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