Reframing Challenges: The Necessity of Gamification

<4 minutes read

Mark Rober Speaking

This is why we turned to YouTuber, Mark Rober, who has over 10 million followers and 1 Billion views of his videos (he's actually a former NASA engineer with exceptional talent). In his TEDx Talk, "The Super Mario Effect - Tricking Your Brain into Learning More", he presents the idea that gamification, more specifically, "reframing challenges as games," can be a helpful tool for increasing learning, specifically to ensure that people follow through while learning difficult things. To illustrate his premise, he tells about a social experiment that he organized where people played a game he designed. For some subjects, points were not given, while for others, points were taken away with each failed attempt.

In Rober's test over twice as many people finished the project when they weren't even aware of a point system.The conclusion that he drew from this is that when the motivator isn't "pressure," but "fun", completion rates are higher. He suggests that learning and follow through increase by changing this view of teaching, or reframing challenges as games.Mark RoberSo why the title, "The Super Mario Effect"? Rober argues that kids play difficult games over and over because they are more concerned with the fun than they are concerned about losing. In fact, in order to learn how to beat games, he submits that kids have to lose...figuring out what not to do is dependent on this. By making adjustments each time their Mario avatar is killed or falls into a pit, they secure their success. Sure there may be some frustration, but they continue because winning is a natural drive. He summarizes his big idea, which can be found at the 7:25 mark of his video, where he says,

This concept of life gamification is more than just, like, "Have a positive attitude" or "Never give up", because those sort of imply you're having to endure against your true desire to quit. I feel like when you frame a challenge or a learning process in the way I'm describing [gamification] you actually want to do it. It feels natural to ignore the failures and try again, in the same way a toddler will want to get up and try and walk again, or in the same way you want to keep playing Super Mario Bros.

It's an interesting thought—gamifying learning can help develop followthrough. Where Rober seems to best drive this idea home is toward the end of his lecture, when he changes an arbitrary exercise of button pushing, to an exercise of pushing buttons using a familiar format (see .GIF below; or watch him here).

A GIF illustrating gamification. Directions for a game look boring, but when put into practice in something like Mario Bros, it turns into fun. Rober emphatically states, "Note the output is the exact same!" He is insisting that the learner, without realizing it, can develop desired behaviors through reframing the challenge as a game. This sounds an awful lot Dan Ariely's TED Talk lecture on changing behavior through motivators that we discussed in our last article, doesn't it? (you can read it here: , or watch Dan Ariely's TED Talk here)

So what's our big takeaway? Perhaps we can learn that our people can be more effective if we hijack their motivation. Here's the great you remember the questions at the beginning of this blog, specifically where we asked what it would look like if your people had a natural drive toward completing tasks? We hope that after considering Mark Rober's concept, you're convinced that your people DO have this drive! And how do we increase this drive? Again, according to "The Super Mario Effect," reframing the challenge, or gamification can be a key that unlocks your people's potential.

We aren't suggesting that you simply tell people to make work/training/learning fun. Then you'll end up like Faizon Love's character in Elf (2003). What we are saying is that a thoughtful process of reframing your challenges requires that you consider the benefit of all who are involved. As an example, think about Rober's videos. His nephews were a part of his process.Faizon Love from the movie Elf saying Even as you watch his other videos, you see that wonder, excitement, and purpose are written into his projects. This means that you have to have the best interest of your people in mind...their work environment, their emotional health, their success, their futures. Don't misconstrue this into us saying that you have to be best friends who hang out for the holidays. But they need to know that it's more than just a game. In fact, they will only "play the game", as long as they perceive that there is a real, tangible benefit. This could be better pay or a bonus; but it could also be public recognition, more responsibility and trust, a day off, leaving work early, and so on. We trust that you know your people, and that you'll develop gamification and benefits for their best interest (and yours as well!), because, after all, you're naturally motivated to try to win!

For more information about microlearning, training, or learning & development, check out the ConveYour: On Learning & Development podcast at, or visit us at Also, think about liking, commenting, or following us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or LinkedIn. And don't forget about Mark can follow him on YouTube too!