Gamification: Using the skinner theory

Thinking about how I can apply theory to my game application, I began looking into skinners theories and looked once again at operant conditioning. For those who are unfamiliar, Skinner came up with the theory that we can alter ones behaviour by either providing a positive or negative enforcement, and by doing so would leave a person wanting to perform the same task to experience the positives that come with complying. According to, there are 4 different types of operant conditioning which are positive, negative, punishment and extinction. These examples have been taken from an article (here) which I feel like people should read, but I have also added my own example to each.

Positive reinforcement:

Do X ==> Y happens ==> Feel good ==> Do X more


A person lifts a finger. The dog eventually sits. The dog gets fed. In time, even beginning to lift a finger leads to the dog sitting.

A child screams. Its parents pay it lots of attention, which is pleasant. The child screams more often.

You go home and complete some work, you come into work and receive a bonus for completing work, so you go home and do more work.

Negative reinforcement:

Z happens ==> Feel bad ==> Do X ==> Z happens less ==> Feel better ==> When Z happens, Do X


A dog is thirsty and goes outside where it finds a bowl of water. Whenever it is thirsty in future, it goes outside.

A person goes out in winter and gets cold. They put on a coat and no longer feel cold. Next time they put on a coat when it seems cold.

When boy makes his sister cry, he feels bad so he buys her chocolate and she begins to cry less so he feels better so whenever she cries he buys her chocolate.


Do X ==> Z happens ==> Feel bad ==> Do X less


A cow grazes an electric fence. It feels discomfort. It learns not to go near the fence.

A child hits a sibling. It is made to stand in a corner. It hits siblings less in the future.

When I am not doing work, less work is created so I feel bad so I try not to be lazy so much.


Y expected ==> Anticipate feeling good ==> Do X ==> Y does not happen ==> Feel bad ==> Do X less

Z happens ==> Feel bad ==> Do X ==> Z does not happen ==> Feel better ==> Do X less


A dog sniffs around, looking for food and finds none in the outhouse. It does not look for food in the outhouse next time.

A child screams and is ignored. They scream less in the future.

When you complete something for someone and you expect a positive reaction but instead you get ignored so you feel bad so you don’t bother so much but then the consequences of that is that they think you don’t care so you make more effort as you feel bad and then they go back to not caring so much so you feel a bit better but then you go back into old habits until otherwise notified. It’s kind of a bit like when you complete a piece of work for a boss and he never really pays you attention until something bad happens, then when you’ve become unnoticed you tend to slip into old habits of being lazy so then you get into trouble again.

SO, how could I apply this to my gamification app? Well, there are many answers for this really but I’ll list a few of what I feel could be achievable for my project.

  • I could use positive reinforcement by alerting the player that they have completed an achievement by using visual stimuli or even some kind of voice message to congratulate the player on their achievement. Once the player feels proud of how they have achieved, they will continue playing. The only issue with this is that once a player receives the same message every time they have achieved something, they will become slower or less active on the app so maybe by tweaking this so that they don’t get a big reward every achievement but just level up, yet every unknown milestone they achieve they get a big reward such as a certificate then the player will be more motivated because they are unaware of when the next reward will be. (Positive reinforcement)
  • I could have alerts sent to the player informing them they should be putting more effort into looking for work as they have not been completing daily tasks on the app in over a set period (lets just call it two weeks for this example). So because the player feels bad for not completing the daily tasks and thinks of the consequences of not having work, then they will be motivated to complete the daily tasks and if they slip into not using the app again, another alert is sent out so they visit the app again. (Negative reinforcement)
  • When the player logs out of the app just after dismissing the daily challenges, the next time they log in their player looks more sad then usual so they feel bad so they log back onto the app and complete the daily challenges to avoid that happening in the future. (Punishment)

I was also considering the use of an animal within the application as people tend to bond with things they can look after and feed etc so it may be a good idea for me to look into developing some kind of Tamagotchi feature within my app so that when the player completes a goal they gain something for their dog for example completing the daily tasks will give the dog food and water for the day, if they don’t complete the task then the dog becomes gloomy. When the player achieves something, not only do they get rewarded the dog would be rewarded too so it gives the player more motivation to be successful. They can have a few fun elements within the app such as playing with their pet during the job search for example the dog can run after their finger as the player scrolls down the job feeds or can play hide and seek with the player so that the player has more motivation to explore the app.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s