7 Ways Video Games Engage The Brain


Games have the power to motivate us, that makes them very powerful tools. By analysing them we can learn how they affect us, in many cases games teach us skills, when looking at how they do this we can learn about how we learn. Because video games record so much data about how we play them and interact with them it makes this a lot easier.

People spend over $8 billion a year on virtual items that only exist in video games, this is a remarkable figure and illustrates the power video games truly have. The rewards in games appear to be why people love playing them so much. In particular the emotional rewards experienced both individually and collectively seem to have a very positive effect. These rewards help engage people, when engaged there are two very different processes going on inside peoples brains. These processes are wanting; I’m going to do that and I’m going to work hard and also liking; such as fun and delight at what you’re doing.

As humans we have evolved to be engaged and stimulated in certain ways, by using this knowledge to create games we can ensure that they hold our attention. The 7 things that keep us engaged in games appear to be:

1) Experience Bars Measuring Progress: By being able to monitor and actually see your progress it gives you a sense of ownership over what you do. This could be in the form of experience points or levels.

2) Multiple Long and Short Term Aims: By giving people multiple aims to work towards which all fit together it ultimately leads to more participation as they are constantly stimulated by multiple different things and achievements. People can choose which aims they take part in but it ultimately steers them in the right direction.

3) Reward Effort: Every time you do something you should get credit. You shouldn’t punish failure but be rewarded for the effort that went into that failure.

4) Feedback: It’s very hard for people to learn if they cannot link consequences to actions. By giving instant feedback people know where they may have got things right or wrong.

5) An element of uncertainty: People are certainly motivated by known rewards, but prospect of an unknown reward can really get people going.

6) Windows of enhanced attention: There are moments when the brain is more alert, if games can exploit this and further excite and stimulate during these periods it can seriously increase engagement.

7) Other people: This really excites people, when collaborating and interacting as a team or against others then people become truly engaged.

If a game can include elements of these 7 factors then users will become extremely engaged. There are then some equally exciting applications for games that can incorporate these elements. One of these applications is to business. Gamification is becoming a topic discussed more and more and can be applied to almost any process and task. It really is an exciting time for this, for more information on how Gamification could be used in your business then please call us on 01273 358000.

About the author 

Pete Baikins

Pete Baikins is an international authority on gamification, a lifelong gamer, successful entrepreneur and a lecturer. As CEO of Gamification+ Ltd he mentors and trains companies world-wide on the use of gamification to solve business challenges. Gamification+ won the Board of Trade Award from the UK's Department of International Trade in January 2019.

Pete is co-host of the health gamification podcast Health Points and is also Chair of Gamification Europe, the annual conference for Gamification practitioners.

Pete is an Honorary Ambassador for GamFed (International Gamification Confederation), having previously been the Chair from 2014 to February 2019, whose aim is to spread best practices within and support the gamification industry.

After 15 years as a Lecturer on gamification and entrepreneurship at the University of Brighton he now guest lectures on Gamification at King’s College London and at ESCP Europe at post-graduate and under-graduate levels.

Over the past 20 years Pete has built and sold two businesses. One was in security software and the more recent one was a telecoms and internet connectivity business. He is also an Ambassador for Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce in the UK.

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