If you’re human, you’ll choose the game. Economics has an entire branch, called Game Theory, devoted to the study of how people make decisions when incentives are involved, whether the incentive is recognition, reward, or simply to have fun. Games have long been used by companies to meet organizational ends among employees or participants.
Think “Car Salesman of the Month” competitions, which give employees the incentive to sell the most cars, but ultimately benefits the company by increasing sales overall. Or auction fundraisers, which amass far more earnings for a cake or pie than a regular bake sale, since the competitive element causes bidders to crave the rush of winning more than a slice of devil’s food cake. Or, my favorite, the fly in the urinal, where a decal is positioned at the ideal point to reduce splash and men find it an irresistible target. The boys have some fun, and there’s less mess. Everyone wins. (Maybe the ladies should try it at home…)
Having a good time is embedded in human nature and if designed appropriately, games can achieve powerful ends. So why aren’t we using them more in education? Even though “making content more playful can be a great way to engage students and add diversity to classroom activities,” as this article says in its opening line, the old standards–drills, worksheets, lectures–persist as the primary means of learning, while games are viewed as “extra” or used as incentive for students to finish their “real” work. Even if teachers intuitively know that games have better buy-in and outcomes and they strive to use them in the classroom, the article goes on to say that support outside the classroom is sometimes nonexistent.