A student of mine recently shared her opinion on gamification in class (and I encouraged her to share it on Twitter for further discussion).

We all experience challenges in life. I won’t sugar coat the truth.

Does gamification enable us to embrace these challenges  – or is it just a dopamine enducing escape?

What cannot or should not be gamified?

Let’s unpack this by turning back the clock to the late nineties…


As a child I did not enjoy going to the dentist. I mean, what was there to like? The sterile, unfamiliar environment; the tray of strange and terrifying metallic instruments; the harsh, screeching sound of the dentist’s drill.

tray of dentist tools
dentist-114266_640 by peterscode (CC0)

Luckily, my Dad figured out a way to make trips to the dentist enjoyable for my sister and I through his own gamification strategies.

Whilst the term ‘gamification’ had not been conceptualised yet, the theory of classical conditioning (see behaviourism) was decades old by 1998.

There were a number of things my Dad did to entice my sister and I to the dentist’s chair.

  • We would leave school early for the day – much to our classmate’s envy.
  • The dentist’s secretary would give us a sticker after our appointment. Usually stating something motivational (‘I was a great patient!’ or ‘I was brave!’) with a tooth pictured next to it.
  • My sister and I were allowed to choose a sweet treat at the bakery next door to the dentist’s office. (Yes, I see the irony!)
  • But most importantly, we were allowed to pick one wrapped mystery present out of the lucky dip box at the toy store pharmacy next door.
mystery box
by TheDigitalArtist (CCO)


The lucky dip mystery prize was (in my child mind) the most positive and important aspect of visiting the dentist. There was something about the process leading up to it. The suspense as I carefully shook,  measured  and even smelt each present to ensure my choice would not disappoint was exhilarating!


Looking back, most of the the presents would contain a collection of pretty ordinary things.  A box of musk sticks, a sheet of stickers, a doll, chocolates, a necklace or a flimsy budget lego equivalent.

But that was beside the point!

Perhaps it was the mixture of emotions leading up to and during?

Or the release of anxiety?

Funnily enough, a recent phenomena on Ebay is the ‘Mystery box’ craze, with some boxes even selling for $1000. I suppose one person’s trash is another person’s treasure?

“These were the most exciting boxes I’ve ever opened. Even though they contained trash, they were very fun to open.”

20 years on, I can honestly say that I LOVE visiting the dentist. (I mean sure, I don’t enjoy being poked and prodded with needles, but there is a satisfaction that comes with enduring short term pain for long term gain).

An unpopular opinion? Yes, but one that will save myself a lot of unwanted stress (and money) in the long run.

It’s interesting to note how this collection of positive childhood experiences solidified a good behaviour in adulthood.

I do wonder, if everything in life could be gamified for enjoyment, what experiences would we have left to provide contrast?

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. What motivates you to face life’s challenges? Does mystery make you excited? What can’t or shouldn’t be gamified? Please leave a comment below or shoot me a tweet @DTeychenne. Be sure to visit Our Gamified World  for more gamification related content!


Join the Conversation


  1. Last year I gamified my classroom. Playing games that I made up for review, such as Magic Carpet and Mining Mania. Kids were allowed to use their earned class/planet money to buy “parachutes “ to save them from “falling” and loosing points if they got answers wrong and extra “mining equipment “ that allowed for an extra “dig” for treasures if they were unsuccessful in their mining attempt.
    Students earned “money” through Live School app – behavior “House Points” and attendance, which was turned into checks that they could cash or bank. They could then purchase gaming tools. Students also earned badges that I made and managed in an app. These earned them levels which earned power. Higher levels could Roll die to possibly earn free time, half a homework assignment, less time off of class silent lunch penalty, a kings pardon etc.
    Long story short… My students were engaged! There was buy in and investment. In my school we have issues with getting kids to school and we have a competition to see which class has highest attendance. Mine won over 98% of the time. They wanted to come and cooperate with their peers (I also had fewer behavioral issues… despite the number of movers and shakers I had) to learn!
    I love gamification and plan to continue!

    1. What a wonderful story Stephanie!
      Pleased to hear that gamification worked for your students.
      Thank you for sharing 🙂

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