Have you ever heard of the Super Mario Effect?

In the TED talk given by Mark Rober in 2018, the Youtuber described how players will happily endure repeated failure with menial tasks while playing the game Super Mario Brothers.

Super Mario

Image by Mark Rober

If we tested a bunch of kids on if they could hit a series of buttons in a specific order, and sent them back to the beginning whenever they made a mistake, there wouldn’t be very many who complete the test successfully. But when these buttons control an Italian plumber on a quest to save a princess, kids will happily repeat their failures again and again until they find a way to succeed at a series of complicated tasks.

  • A test is an assessment of skill that challenges your abilities, teaching you to get things right, and you either pass or you fail.
  • A game is an assessment of skill that challenges your abilities, teaching you with repetitive failure, and you either win or you lose.

Games are more enjoyable than tests because they have to be entertaining to keep our attention. Tests are obligation, but games are fun. We got to decide when to play and when to stop. I recently found a wonderful quote by Peter Gray:

“In all forms of playful fighting and chasing, each child has the right to call time-out or to quit if the emotional or physical challenge becomes too great. Without that right, the activity is no longer play.”

You can stop playing a game anytime you get bored. People will endure challenges for a longer period of time if we frame the learning exercise as a game, as you can see from data collected by Mark Rober in his TED talk.

When you deliver lessons alongside rewards in a game, students will associate positive emotions with the learning process. Every victory teaches you something, and releases a bit of dopamine into your system. This creates an optimal environment for learning.

zoom games

Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing some interesting facts about the neurochemistry of our brains, and how they can hack the learning process.

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If you’d like to increase the attention and interaction in your virtual meetings, I’d be happy to see you in one of these upcoming events.