Is there really something about games?

November 3, 2013
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

If you make it a game, gamers will play it no matter what your motivation is in making it."

― Jane McGonigal, PhD  []


Jane McGonigal delivered a highly anticipated keynote address at a recent EDUCAUSE conference. McGonigal is a world-renowned designer of alternate reality games — or, as she sometimes puts it "games designed to improve real lives and solve real problems." Education experts are honing in on games as the up and coming "great new thing" in teaching and learning. The effect that gaming may play on student engagement is one of the driving factors. 

[For more on Jane McGonigal's presentation at EDUCAUSE, check out the Center For Digital Education news item, Why Education Should Embrace Games.]

I am not a hard-core gamer. Although I have a video game console and a collection of games, they are mostly played by visiting relatives throughout the year. I do, however, enjoy  gem-swapping games played on a tablet or smartphone. This simple task can engage me for one or two hours, one 60-second game at a time. 

What is it about games that draw us in? What holds our attention for hours at a time?

McGonigal's research shows that gamers experience ten positive emotions of engagement:

  1. Creativity
  2. Contentment
  3. Awe and Wonder
  4. Excitement
  5. Curiosity
  6. Pride
  7. Surprise
  8. Love
  9. Relief
  10. Joy

Adding gaming elements to course material may not be so much about "gamifying" the content as using strategies that increase the amount of times that students engage with the content. 

The increase in engagement alone may warrant further exploration of the use of games or gaming elements in education at all levels. 


Submitted by Michelle Zasada (not verified) on

I had the privilege of seeing Jan McGonigal give a keynote address at a conference this past spring on this very subject. It was enlightening to say the least! I was very skeptical going into it as were most of the audience I suspect as we were all higher education professionals and this conference was not about gaming. She talked about how gaming evokes positive emotions, that people playing games were engaged, and that the opposite of play isn't work, its depression. All very thought provoking ideas. Over all it was a very interesting talk and one I think we can all learn something from, especially those of us in education who are trying to engage our students and provide a positive educational experience for them.

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