Dec 01

Gaming and Motivation

40lb Weight Loss

40lb Weight Loss

I’ve never been intrinsically motivated to exercise. We talk a lot about instilling an intrinsic desire to learn in our students. Extrinsic motivators like candy, class money, certificates, prizes, badges, points, grades, any incentives are seen as counter-productive to fostering intrinsic motivation. I see that. I’ve read some of Alfie Kohn’s work and I totally agree with a lot of what he writes and what he’s discovered through his research.

Yet, on the other hand, I can’t expect all people to be intrinsically motivated in all things. When I went gradeless to remove the punishing and rewarding extrinsic motivations of grades I found that many of my students still weren’t motivated to learn Science or to work in my classes everyday. Whether learning and working in Science class is necessary for everyone or not is a whole ‘nother issue that I won’t go into here. Now I think about this stuff a lot. I’ve written about extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.

After removing all extrinsic motivators from my classes and finding that students weren’t engaging I thought of adding some extrinsic motivators. Not the same ones I used before because I have issues with how things like grades, stickers, candy, class money, lottery tickets, toys, gold stars and awards work and what they do to us. But being a gamer and getting very engaged by playing computer games, I mean literally being absorbed into those worlds, I looked into using gaming motivators such as experience points, leveling up, and badges or achievements. I’ve written about using those things before as I worked out whether or not to use them:

When is Extrinsic Motivation Okay?
Rewards and Gaming
Badges, do we need them?

I know that of the 120 to 140 6th and 8th graders I work with every year, year after year, not all of them are intrinsically motivated by school learning, school in particular, my classes, technology, or Science. I see that every year. I have to explain how the things we do will help and why they should do them. Some things are because they are fun or will provide them with necessary skills but other things I have to say that they will need to know about it for high school or because their parents want them to do well in school. The point is that I’m working at motivating my students to do the things they need to do in my classes all the time. If the students don’t choose to do the tasks we’re doing in class then I have to find extrinsic motivations to sell them on what I’m offering. We do it all the time.

A couple of years ago I weighed 215lbs. I knew I was fat but since I wasn’t what I termed, “Biggest Loser,” fat I thought I was fine. I had started living a sedentary lifestyle after a back injury I suffered in my 20’s. Frankly, being sedentary didn’t hurt my back. And for years I didn’t even need my chiropractor! Then we bought a Wii and I got Wii Fit and Wii Biggest Loser. The Wii informed me that I was obese. What?!? No way! Yes way. At 215lbs I was just into obesity. I was at a BMI of 31.7 and over 30 is obese.

So I began to work out and with the Wii and having someone motivate me (yes, a virtual trainer on the Wii Fit and a virtual Bob on the Wii Biggest Loser) and it being a game I was motivated to workout! I lost 15lbs in a few months. I got cocky and added weights and that took out my back again. I went back to my chiropractor and started the healing process. Enough inertia set in and I didn’t get back to working out for a while. Luckily, I kept my weight around 200 or so lbs and didn’t go back up but I was still overweight (BMI of 29.5, which is very overweight – normal weight range is from 18.5 to 24.9).

Then I found a handy little app called Zombies, Run! I had right on my phone a game. In the game the zombie apocalypse has happened and I’m a runner in a small settlement. Runners are sent out on missions to get needed supplies. Back at the base there is a radio operator using cameras setup around the base to guide through zombie infested country and back to base safely. For me that game is a story that I listen to. After each segment music from my playlist runs but the revolutionary part is that I am moving while listening to the story and playing the game! You can even set it up to have zombies chase at random intervals. When you hear that zombies are close you have to pick up your pace by 20% for anywhere from 30s to a minute or they catch you. The more you run and the more missions you complete the more supplies and materials your game character collects that you can use to build up your home town base! If you get caught by zombies during a zombie chase you don’t die but you drop supplies and that is a pain. So collecting supplies to build up your base is yet another great reason besides the story to keep running (and to keep from getting caught by zombies). You don’t want to ignore your virtual home base, do you? I couldn’t run when I started playing the game so I walked. Soon I was motivated to try the Zombies Run 5K app (still part of the story but a totally different app and format) and that one actually got me running! Now I run and I enjoy it. Something I never did before. Ever.

So did the game get me to become intrinsically motivated to run? Something I always hated to do? It sure seems so. I learned something about myself. Data not only motivates me but also helps me stay healthy. When I lost the first 15lbs I was missing the eating part. I still ate without a care and without counting calories. I was afraid to give up food. So I got an UP Band. Wearing the UP bracelet allows me to track my movement all day, showing me how many calories I burn, while also allowing me to track everything I eat, showing me how many calories I’m consuming. I found that by keeping my calories consumed less than my calories burned I lost weight! And by running I could burn enough calories to eat all the foods I love to eat as long as I cut down. That’s another change in lifestyle I could never manage to do before, cut down how much I eat. I chose to cut down how much I eat instead of cutting out certain foods, like fatty foods and sugary sweets, because I felt I could be successful that way and it worked!


UP Band app data screenshot.

The above image shows a screenshot of my UP Band app where I can keep track of calories burned and calories consumed (among many other things). I started by cutting down my intake to around 1800 cals/day, less if I could manage it, but since reaching my target weight I can consume around 2,000 cals/day. Pretty cool. As long as I burned more than I consumed the weight dropped. I lost 45 more pounds and have kept that weight off for the past 20 weeks! I now weigh 156lbs (BMI of 23, well within the normal range!). I never dreamed I could lose that much weight much less maintain it. And just like that first season of the Biggest Loser (for those of you who saw it) I am no longer taking blood pressure or cholesterol medication! My blood pressure and cholesterol are both normal after years of taking medications for it! My eating habits aren’t the best but I’ll tackle that one later because for now, as long as keep my calories around 2,000/day I am maintaining my target weight. Sure, I’ve suffered setbacks such as a nagging and recurring calf strain that I’m currently in physical therapy for but none of that is changing all I’ve gained, or lost so to speak. I’ve already run two 5K’s (both zombie 5K’s) and plan to run many more. ๐Ÿ™‚


My weight loss!

Checking my data daily such as weight, calories consumed, calories burned, a graph such as the one above, has been highly motivating to me. Still is! And I still run using theร‚ย Zombies, Run app game because it is so much fun. I can truly say that gaming saved my life. Because of this I see that using experience points, leveling, and badges is not really a bad thing. So I will use gaming motivators even though grades, stickers, candy, class money, lottery tickets, toys, gold stars and awards don’t feel right to me. Is there a difference? I’d like to think so. Either way I know that gaming can be used for good.

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    • Frank on February 23, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    Great to hear about your success! In the past I’ve thought about gamifying my class but never felt strong enough about it to actually set up the systems for it. Are you familiar with the work of Dan Pink around motivation? He has a TED talk and a book . Unfortunately, it doesn’t touch on gamification (at least not that I remember), but it’s a great read on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation and I’ve found it very applicable to my classroom. Are there easy/gradual ways to implement gamification?

  1. Hi Frank,

    Dan Pink’s work is awesome and fits in very well with gamification. I have found that in a gamified classroom I can offer my students choice, purpose and the opportunity for mastery so they get quite motivated! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I just finished presenting a workshop at this year’s NCCE on gamification using 3D GameLab, which has made my life as a teacher SO MUCH EASIER. It’s awesome:

    If you want to start small, which I totally recommend, then you need this book:

    Awesome book with great examples to get you started.

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