What makes Minecraft a highly motivated community

A lot of the discussion about why teachers might use video games in their class has centred around the belief that video games are motivating. It’s also the central controversy about children playing games at home — they are so motivating that they are reluctant to put them down. Education often puts forward the theory of flow — to suggest that once motivated, children are in an optimal learning zone, a view presented by Jane McGonigal (2012) from which she claimed games are optimal learning environments, which predicated the launch of her book – Reality is Broken. It’s a compelling story, bursting with emotion, pop culture and ‘common sense’ – a way to rescue the shallowing of society and death of childhood. I don’t believe this is the case, or rather that video games have somehow found secret success factors no one else has.

For most people, tweenager and above, the construction of success is now deeply linked to their construction of themselves. This is partly visible in the identities, routines and rituals that they engage in. This engagement is also one based in consumerism, where material objects are part of personal expression and communication – their Y-Phones, Tablets, Game Consoles etc., These things all combine to influence their overall motivation towards everything. For example, it influences what they say and how they behave when told to get off the Xbox in the same way it draws them to it. Parents and teachers are not dealing with opposing forces — good and bad machines, books, games, behaviours and so on, but with one behavior.

Motivation is bound by two things for the ‘screenage’ generation, expectancy and value. Expectancy is comprised abstract elements: confidence, experience, importance and success. Value is perceptive: extrinsic motivation, social motivation, achievement motivation and intrinsic motivation. These things are so complex and variable, that video games are not universally motivating, nor are they a way to engage the disenfranchised or isolated members of society. Reality is not therefore broken, but variously experienced — particularly outside of the snow-globe of TED Talks.

People enjoy games because game-designers put ‘community’ to work. To me, this is at the heart of games-based-learning and project-based-learning. Community has numerous subtle components, however four main archetypes need to be considered when we’re talking about motivation and what spaces kids are in that might tap into that: Participation; Cohesion; Identity and Creativity.

Consider Minecraft not as a game but as a community space: it’s physically located on a device, but conceptually located in media consumer culture. It has the necessary attributes of a ‘good community’ and therefore is more likely to motivate players to participate. This is what all game designers are learning to do, and is critical to the commercial and every day pop culture discussion of those games inside their respective communities.

Now ask yourself, how connected is my kid to the local corporeal community: re-visit the four factors and ask yourself are they participating in ways that are sustained over time, have they become part of a core-group and do they have an emergent role in that group. Do they find cohesion? Is the group supportive, tolerant, allow turn taking, responsive, funny and playful. Do they have an identity? Is the group self-aware, does it share vocabulary and language, does it give them a personal space and brand … and finally, is the community creative?

I’d argue some schools have massive community and others are people-factories that pretend they are a community. The thing with games is, there is no pretending. Games which are motivating have communities that are motivating … which is why gamification at school or work is not about points, badges and rewards — it’s about community.

Maintaining motivation to enquire

Asking a driving question laced with teen-interesting dilemmas and undertones get’s their attention – once. It’s my belief that when kids experience teachers asking them questions which they feel is because they are a person of interest – so they pay attention. If they don’t detect this feeling, it’s taken as a disingenuous attempt to disguise “school-work”. They’ll probably comply, but with no HUD display over their head via your ARG powered iPad – how do you tell?

Kids, like adults pay more attention to “meaningful work” and that is motivating.

I’m going to explain how to experiment with this, so in anticipation, I’d love it if you could TWEET this for me, just to get the ball rolling.

If not, you are not allowed to read the rest. Deal?

How to maintain the learning rage

The challenge of PBL is not to motivate students (though I believe it can awaken them from sleep if teachers know how). The challenge is to keep them motivated during an enquiry.  This, I don’t see being explained by the popular PBL-talkers too much, so I thought I’d add it.  It’s not a learning thing, they teach you this in ad-school.

We are bombarded with brain-memos, the loudest being “is this too easy or too hard right now”. If ourbrain say’s yes or even maybe then we are likely to feel bored. Bored kids invent less boring realities for teachers – which teachers tend to dislike. Adults are no better, at conferences some people actually fall asleep in response, where most of us politely disappear into cyber-interests.

You are a person of interest

To keep kids interested – and therefore at least willing to pay attention to school work, a great PBL teacher learns how to see (and treat) kids as a person of interest. I don’t give a monkeys about your learning-cycles, design thinking steps – unless you can find ways to show kids (or adults) they are a person of interest – they are mentally out of there ASAP.

Imaginative Education Trick: Level 1

Here’s one from the IE box of tricks, it’s a trust builder – as trust comes before powerpoint (snigger).

Using sleek, smooth, plush, slick, salty, hot, crisp, and juicy, which combination of two would make…

                            …the ideal teacher for you? 

                            …the ideal friend for you?

                            …the ideal enemy that could defeat you?

                            …the ideal minion for you?

                            …the ideal leader of the free world?

                            …the ideal sauce?

                            …the ideal snack food?

If students respond, let’s agree that you got their attention. Ding, level up. If not, check for signs of life – they might be so deep in sleep we’ll need to do something more radical. But I digress …

Getting students motivated (again and again) is best achieved by deliberately tapping into their emotions and saying to them – you are a person of interest to me.

Imaginative Education Trick: Level 2

Split kids into two groups – Get them to sit around and talk about the next 10 years (10 year being infinity to kids). This pitches the conversation out into their imagination and away from more immediate anxieties and pressures.  Give them 10 mins for each question, then get them to explain the differences (critical thinking).

Ask them – “In 10 years …

“How Much Better Do You Want To Feel?”


“How Much Happier Do You Want To Be?”

Now give them 10 mins to list out

“in 10 years,  what are five things that will get you there?”

When they’ve done that,ask each individual to come up with five steps for each thing that they think will help them as individuals – which should round you up to an hour.

If they can do this, then chances are your students will make great PBL students once you get your head around this stuff and they’ll leave, wondering what all that was about … kids who wonder about stuff as they leave are engaged.

Don’t be afraid to ask them using the good old voice box to target kids with emotionally provocative questions which are not in the syllabus.

PBL teachers learn how to use these bad-boys. It’s challenging because teacher questions are (historically) tied to a certain Blooms taxonomy (aligned with selected content) which disrupts the way our minds naturally question the world and each other. Natural language is impossible to achieve therefore communicative learning is equally un-realistic.

Think how dumb it would be if each time you came home from work and your partner asked “list what you did to today” followed by “compare this day to any other day” … see it’s just not a natural way to learn or communicate with others is it?

Here are some templates to use:

How Much Better…..?

How Much Energy ….?

How much more/less time …?

Is this the same as…..?

Isn’t it time you….?

Isn’t this the most unusual….?

Is this the most …?

Is that the least?

Wouldn’t you be better off……?

This is of course how advertising works. So if you have a design background you’ll be saying “deh” right now. In ad-land, we’d write “How much younger do you want to look?” where as in education we’re asking “how much more do you want to learn”. This to me is why you should get someone to teach you about PBL – most kids are told what to learn, what the limits (and consequences for not learning) are. This is of course stupid, but convenient.

Tapping into emotions using these kind of lead in questions will allow you to re-tap personal-emotional motivation – but over time, you’ll forget and it will just be natural. So if you’re tire of the same old battles with student bevaviour, buy a PBL coach.