Zombie Motivation

Educational video games tend to evoke a wide range of opinions among educational researchers, but one thing they tend to agree on is that the more the “material to be learned” is integrated into the game, the better. A new study in the Journal of the Learning Sciences helps illustrate this point.

Researchers observed students play three different versions of Zombie Division, a video game designed to teach mathematics.  In the “intrinsic” version, mathematics was a crucial component of the gameplay — a dividend displayed on the zombie’s chest told the player about the zombie’s vulnerability to various attacks. In the “extrinsic” version the only math content was in the form of a between-level quiz. In the control version the math content was completely removed.

The results showed that children learned more from the intrinsic version of the game under fixed time limits and spent 7 times longer playing it in free-time situations.

I think researchers occasionally tend to over-emphasize the sometimes murky distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and this paper does a nice job avoiding that pitfall by focusing on the intrinsic integration between a game and its learning content. The more that killing zombies and calculating quotients are part of the same activity or goal system, the more interest and engagement there is.

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