The Neuroscience of Gaming: Persuasion Techniques Behind Skills Development Games

blog author By Aminata N. Mbodj

Part 2 of 2

By their very structure, video games trigger effective learning paradigms[1] through elements such as experiential and inquiry-based learning, self-efficacy and goal-setting, as well as continuous feedback and cooperation. Effective video games not only leverage brain chemistry but enhance it through gradual challenges and reward mechanisms. Thus, they manage to increase focus and time on tasks so as to yield higher learning outcomes.

A study depicted in Merrilea Mayo’s article on Games for science and engineering education goes as follows:

[…] a middle school class was divided into two groups. The control group (32 students) learned electrostatics through interactive lectures, experiments, observations, and teacher demonstrations. The second group (58 students), with the same teacher, mostly played an electrostatics game called Supercharged during class time while also receiving lectures and handouts. The 32 in the control group improved their understanding by 15% over their pre-test scores; those who played the game improved their understanding by 28%. Much more impressive was how the simulation contributed to girls’ achievement; among girls, the control group improved on their pre-test scores by only 5% and the game group by 23%. 

Evidence from this research not only seems to suggest that video games added to normal lectures and handouts contribute to higher learning outcomes, but it also demonstrates that video games may improve learning outcomes in specific demographics which might have been underrepresented and underperforming, especially in STEM fields. 

Games and Personalization, a Whole New World

The case study above, most importantly perhaps, suggests that video games can, quite literally, widen access to talent which, otherwise, would not have had access to the traditional workforce pipeline. In gameplay, just as in early workforce training, the individual must move forward with a sentiment of purpose and personal responsibility when engaging in skill acquisition; an effective training system must make space for variations among trainees, especially if the desired result is a holistic, performant, and innovative workforce.

Personalization, as a result of identity-centric gameplay, is a pillar for creating particularly engaging and immersive game experiences. Tondello et al[2] propose different personalization factors to consider in making games more appealing and effective; these factors include personality types, age, gender, player types, culture or nationality, or again individual susceptibility to persuasive attempts. 

Tondello et al claim: “personalization is more effective than standardization to create behavior change.” Indeed, the above-cited factors, when properly and ethically leveraged, increase individual involvement in the games’ narratives[3], and thus make players more receptive to behavior change suggestions and more likely to experience the game as an immersive simulation

As one of the most scalable digital media to date, video games have a massive reach with more than 2.6 Billion people said to play them worldwide. Personalization features developed atop factors such as those cited above further expand reach across demographic lines; for manufacturing, and in the context of skill-building games, this means access to the right talent, no matter where it is located, no matter what it looks like. 

Rewarding Behavior: From Novice to Skilled

Skills development games are specifically designed to optimize the processes of learning, technical upskilling, and soft skills acquisition. Using the personalization factors, the player is taken through a reward fueled “persuasion pipeline” geared towards transforming them from novice to skilled. The following excerpts from an article on the Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy, on Video Games and Rehabilitation[4], give us an insight as to the mechanisms triggered by effective gameplay:

One of the insights … on the neuroscience of reward and motivation, is the discovery that the limbic system, in particular the nucleus accumbens (NA), is critical to learning new behaviors, especially those associated with the pursuit of rewards. At the beginning of a game, players desire a low level of challenge to meet a correspondingly low level of ability and familiarity with the game. With an increase in experience, the greater challenge keeps players on the edge of their ability to accomplish tasks. Physiologically, when the same action is no longer guaranteed to produce the same level of reward, the magnitude of reward prediction error is also increased. This desirable increase could be achieved by … increasing the level of challenge offered by a game or by changing the game. 

Reward Prediction Error might be the new term that we take away from the above excerpt; it measures the degree to which what was expected differed from what was obtained. While Lohse’s research explores how rewarding a given action is; other researchers, such as Dalhousie University’s Rita Orji, are set to optimize the very nature of these in-game actions so as to maximize reward[5].

Cialdini’s Persuasion Strategies

Persuasion strategies are the backbone of behavior change research; Cialdini’s six persuasion strategies, exploring Reciprocity, Scarcity, Authority, Commitment, and Consistency, as well as Consensus and Liking, are among the most widely adopted. Orji et al ran a large-scale case study (1108 individuals) using various Persuasive Technologies, which have been defined as “a class of technologies that are intentionally designed to change people’s attitude or behavior”, to test these strategies across the Gender and Age lines.

The results showed that, across the board, commitment and reciprocity emerged as the most persuasive. Furthermore,  according to Orji et al, there are three pivotal aspects that are critical to long-term engagement and thus behavior change: competition, feedback, and presence. Skill development games aim to maximize these aspects, respectively, through a subtle mix of Badges & Certifications, On-demand Analytics Reporting, and In-game Live Events.

As the immersive technology par excellence, skill development games offer today’s manufacturing industry a unique opportunity to combine specialized training and cutting edge behavior change techniques into highly captivating and impactful learning experiences. Furthermore, with all this evidence showing not only the extent to which video games are taking up ever-larger chunks of our already active screen life but also their special ability to promote skill acquisition and knowledge retention, using them as the primary tool to reach new industry talent simply stands as the logical next step for manufacturing.


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Aminata N. Mbodj A First-Year PhD Candidate in Human-Centered Computing at Clemson University, Aminata is deeply fascinated by the humbling process of learning. Three questions keep her up at night: “Which cognitive processes do we use to build mental models of the world as we experience it?”, “To what extent can we use algorithms to map these structures out?”, “What resulting computing solutions are accessible, so as to optimize our everyday learning?”

1 Merrilea J. Mayo. 2007. Games for science and engineering education. Commun. ACM 50, 7 (July 2007), 30–35. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/1272516.1272536 
2 Gustavo F. Tondello, Rita Orji, and Lennart E. Nacke. 2017. Recommender Systems for Personalized Gamification. In Adjunct Publication of the 25th Conference on User Modeling, Adaptation and Personalization (UMAP ’17). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 425–430. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3099023.3099114
3 Moyer-Gusé, E. (2008). Toward a theory of entertainment persuasion: Explaining the persuasive effects of entertainment-education messages. Communication Theory, 18(3), 407-425. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.2008.00328.x
4 Lohse, K., Shirzad, N., Verster, A., Hodges, N., & Van Der Loos, H. (2013). Video games and rehabilitation: Using design principles to enhance engagement in physical therapy. Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy, 37(4). doi:10.1097/NPT.0000000000000017
5 Orji, R., Mandryk, R., & Vassileva, J. (2015). Gender, age, and responsiveness to Cialdini’s persuasion strategies. Lecture Notes in Computer Science (including Subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics), 147-159. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-20306-5_14

From Gamer to Skilled Worker:
New Normal, New Workforce Pipeline

blog author By Aminata N. Mbodj

Part 1 of 2

A dynamic and highly trained workforce is the basic fuel for growth in any given industry. The truth of this statement is made flagrant in today’s manufacturing industry whose pleas for young and skilled talent are, unsurprisingly, only echoed by its record low productivity rates. With 2.1 million manufacturing jobs set for availability by 2030, industry employers, especially in the sectors of Pharma and Life Sciences, IT, Aerospace, and Automotive should pay special attention to new methods of talent acquisition. 

A Talent Pool Ready to be Tapped

The workforce shortage within manufacturing might not so much be the result of a nonexistent and/or uninterested talent pool, but rather that of a lack of visibility in an ever digitized world. In fact, according to à survey by Indeed, Gen Z’s job search habits suggest a strong interest in tech and health-care positions; excellent career choices as manufacturing areas in both fields currently suffer serious talent shortages. The survey further suggests that, as a generation brought up during the Great Recession, job stability is a priority for Gen Z; representing five out of Business Insider’s 10 best industries for job security, manufacturing and Gen Z seem like a perfect match.

Despite all this evidence, however, misconceptions relating to the manufacturing industry run rampant among Gen Z; misconceptions that get in the way of crucial early career exposure. The research is clear: students who have not expressed STEM-related aspirations by age 10 are unlikely to do so by age 14; Amy Flynn, career development counselor at Oakland Schools’ Technical Campuses states: “Kids choose careers from experiences they’ve had.” Flynn  insists: “The bottom line is that exposure, exposure, exposure is amazing for students.”

With the “career imprinting” window being so narrow, Gen Z’s exposure to industry careers must not only prove engaging but also dispel any misconceptions about the field. For this, video games might be the solution. Leveraging research-based techniques designed to reflect real-life processes of skill acquisition, these “persuasive media”, as Ian Bogost, Professor of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology calls them, constitute a non-negligible path towards manufacturing tomorrow’s workforce.

Bridging the Skills Gap

Of the many ways to reach and influence Gen Z, video games occupy a Champion’s Place. If a historical institution as prestigious as the U.S. Army, which has commemorated its 246th year this 14th of June 2021, has understood this, why should industry lag behind?

America’s Army: A Case in Point

In July 2002, the U.S. Army launched “America’s Army”, a video game geared towards informing, training, and recruiting prospective soldiers. This tactical move of “meeting them (potential recruits) where they are” is all the more understandable given the fact that, “by age 21, the average American will have spent more than 10,000 hours playing video games”; the equivalent to 5 years of full-time employment.

Among the plethora of reasons why video games should be used in skills training, the #1 simply is that future industry talent is, currently, easiest to engage with and train using this medium. Indeed, video games not only manage to achieve record-high levels of engagement but also are potent tools for guided behavior change.

Video Games and Behavior Change, A New Outlook

The association between video games and changed behaviors is not as foreign to us as we like to believe. For well over three decades, video games have shown conclusive results in a wide range of applications including group therapy (1992), the prevention of Type 2 diabetes and obesity among youths (2008), or again the effective treatment of chemotherapy-related anxieties in children and adolescents (1990), we seem to have come to a consensus that video games can indeed tangibly affect the behavior of players. 

In the game world, claims game designer Jane McGonigal, we become “the best version of ourselves, the most likely to persist, the most likely to help others”. Emotional immersion and total concentration, as natural consequences of compelling gameplay, represent a unique opportunity to introduce new behaviors and habits to the players thus resulting in skills acquisition. There is, in our case, an unprecedented chance at using such a powerful tool towards reaching, engaging, and training the future of manufacturing.


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Aminata N. Mbodj A First-Year PhD Candidate in Human-Centered Computing at Clemson University, Aminata is deeply fascinated by the humbling process of learning. Three questions keep her up at night: “Which cognitive processes do we use to build mental models of the world as we experience it?”, “To what extent can we use algorithms to map these structures out?”, “What resulting computing solutions are accessible, so as to optimize our everyday learning?”

The Manufacturing Alliance Podcast Presents: Tina Zwolinski | Skillsgapp

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On this episode of The Manufacturing Alliance Podcast: Chat and Chow Series we are joined by our guest, Tina Zwolinski of Skillsgapp.

Skillsgapp is the first in the skills-based training sector to offer customized gaming apps focused on helping Generation Z gain the middle-skills necessary to participate in manufacturing and other technical industries.

Tina and her team at Skillsgapp are working diligently to rebuild the industry and develop the skilled workers that America needs.

Skills Gap ‘21: Opportunity Knocks

As we clamor for silver linings in the cloud of COVID-19, perhaps one is America’s skills gap, which is creeping up to a new high due to the exodus of Boomers from the workplace. While this presents many challenges for employers, it offers an abundance of opportunities for Gen Z who are in prime position to take advantage of the need to fill hundreds of thousands of jobs that make up our skills-based talent shortage over the next ten years.

America’s Skills Gap Trajectory

Those who hold college degrees have been hit hardest by the pandemic. According to edsurge, “When the unemployment rate spiked during the spring of 2020, jobs that required a college degree declined more than those that didn’t, and new college graduates were hit the hardest. Not only did postings for bachelor’s level jobs fall the most, but entry-level jobs also dropped farthest and fastest.”

The AAF explains, “Over the next decade, the nation as a whole could face a shortage of about 765,000 needed workers with the skills that come from an associate degree or some college.”

Here is where Gen Z can pounce, having witnessed firsthand that even during the pandemic, skills-based careers are a viable option, and could even be considered a safer career path alternative to a 4-year degree … and just as lucrative.

Optimism and Opportunities

The National Association of Manufacturers recently released its final Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey of 2020 and found that “74.2% of manufacturers responding to the survey felt positive about their own company’s outlook, up from 66% last quarter.” The NAM also says, “According to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 525,000 job openings in manufacturing in October, a record high.” 

Unfilled positions are not only abundant in manufacturing, but also cybersecurity. The Herjavec Group’s 2019/2020 Cybersecurity Jobs Report indicates, “The U.S. has a total employed cybersecurity workforce consisting of 715,000 people, and there are currently 314,000 unfilled positions.” 

This leaves the pathway wide open for Gen Z to take advantage of this labor shortage if paved with skills-based training. Because according to Undersecretary at the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, Stewart Knox, “It’s not about just who you knew or who you might have an in with to get that job. It is based on skills.”

The Future Ahead

A greater focus on skills was part of the former Trump administration’s agenda that is continuing under Biden’s. The House of Representatives recently passed the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 — a bill Jobs for the Future reports will bring apprenticeships into the modern era, investing $3.5 billion over the next five years to strengthen these programs and bring in a new generation of skilled workers. 

It’s safe to say that while vaccines are bringing the pandemic to a close, skills-based careers just busted wide open.

New Day, Same Skills Gap

It’s safe to say that it’s been a year of changes. From how we interact with others to the ways in which we work, nothing looks the same as it used to. Things are set to change even more with a new administration entering the white house. 

However, one thing remains the same, the need to close America’s skills gap. 

2020: A Year of Ups and Downs

Industry Week explains that “The coronavirus has exposed the vulnerabilities of our modern economy, forcing thousands of businesses to shutter and putting millions of Americans and people around the world at financial risk.”

We couldn’t agree more. Since February of 2020, employment in manufacturing is down 621,000 and other industries are feeling the affects of the Coronavirus as well. Not only that, but manufacturing productivity has also fallen in 2020. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Manufacturing labor productivity decreased at a 15.5-percent annual rate in the second quarter of 2020, as output fell 47.0 percent and hours worked dropped 37.3 percent. These were the largest quarterly declines ever recorded (data begin in 1987).”

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel and things will eventually begin to improve. Employment in manufacturing increased during October by 38,000 jobs. 

While earnings have somewhat decreased, hours for existing employees have increased. The BLS says, “Average weekly hours of all employees rose 0.3 hour in October to 40.5 hours. For production workers, the average workweek increased 0.1 hour to 41.2 hours.”

New Administration, Same Focus

Earlier last year, President Trump’s administration shifted its emphasis on hiring for the country’s biggest employer, the federal government. According to SHRM, the executive order “directs important, merit-based reforms that will replace degree-based hiring with skills- and competency-based hiring.” Trump’s move echoed what some in the industry, such as Elon Musk, are already moving toward. 

Musk doesn’t require college degrees to work at Tesla. Business Insider reports “Rather than a degree from a prestigious university, Musk said he looked for ‘evidence of exceptional ability’ in an employee.”

President-elect Biden’s administration will also share the Trump administration’s and Musk’s focus on skills. On November 9th, a new federal workforce policy agenda for President-elect Joe Biden and Congress was released by the National Skills Coalition. Training partnerships and apprenticeship will be a focus for the plan.

The National Skills Coalition says, “President-elect Biden has called for a $50 billion investment in workforce training, including investments in industry-led training partnerships and expanding apprenticeship opportunities. Biden has also proposed providing two years of tuition-free community college for recent high school graduates and adults who may need retraining to advance in their careers or transition to new industries.”

What’s Next?

Props to our government for their efforts in helping to close the skills gap. But they alone can’t wrangle the decades-old elephant in the room: How to reach the next workforce generation in ways that make advanced manufacturing careers appealing to them. The business-as-usual ways of workforce recruiting through websites and shiny brochures don’t resonate with Gen Z. If we don’t innovate now, we risk losing them forever. 

COVID-19 has given us increasing opportunities to train and reach Gen Z in their digital world, and reversing Gen Z’s ‘Plan B’ mindset regarding manufacturing careers should be no different. By leveraging their phones already in their hands, modern manufacturing can employ interactive educational technology to help Gen Z develop real-world work skills through interactive, digital experiences that will engage with industry and expose users to existing opportunities.  

The most revered workforce in the world uses gaming for training, upskilling, soft skills, and for recruitment! “America’s Army” is the official game for the US Army that lets players try out virtual missions, in some cases for real. This is augmented, tactical training with quantifiable metrics and a sophisticated interface that helps save lives, whether on the front lines or not. 

It’s a new day, America. Let the games begin.

Four Reasons Why Gamification Should be Used in Skills Development

Let’s face it, job training isn’t something many people look forward to. It can be the most tedious and boring part of being hired at a company. However, there is a solution that can remove the mundane. According to continu, “Gamification in training is the process of applying gaming designs and concepts to learning or training sessions in order to make them more engaging and entertaining for your employees.” It offers a more innovative way for organizations to recruit a future workforce, as well as an opportunity to get them more excited about the career they’re about to embark on. 

Here are four ways that gamification can improve manufacturers’ skills training development, and recruitment: 

1. It allows learners to better control their own learning experiences.
It’s essential to keep recruits engaged throughout the entire process as well as develop a process that gets new candidates in the door. There’s nothing about sitting down to watch a series of videos during skills training that actively gets someone’s attention. However, by giving them some control over the progression of their training, you can make them an integral part of the process rather than just having them passively observe. 

2. Gamification offers manufacturers faster feedback that can allow them to improve training procedures in real time.
Continu notes, “With more traditional training, you learn your score, or are given advice once your session is completed. With gamification in training, users are given feedback as they progress throughout the training.” This allows for real-time adjustments to be made as the training continues, making the process more efficient and attractive to a newer, digitally-minded generation.

3. Gamification can draw in the younger generation to your training.
The manufacturing industry can take notes from construction companies’ success at this. Caterpillar is recruiting younger workers and enhancing its operator training programs with game-based simulators. This hands-on approach to learning gives students the opportunity to understand — and develop an affinity for — machine controls and operating procedures prior to entering the workforce, which makes them more qualified candidates when they come of age. 

4. Gamification can make your company or organization stronger.
Making training interesting is key for new recruits to stay with you throughout the process. Think about it — if your training process is a bore, they won’t retain as much or be excited about it. Continu explains that gamification can allow users to enjoy the process, retain more, and ultimately use these newfound skills to strengthen your company. Their success can also inspire loyalty, mitigating the ever-costly workforce attrition. 

What’s The Bottom Line?

It’s safe to say that gaming matters to manufacturers and the future workforce alike. When they’re at the top of their game, your bottom line wins.

Stu News Laguna: Laguna’s Cynthia Jenkins launches skillsgapp, a company to bridge the divide in workforce skills education

Could mobile gaming hold an answer to the dearth of the U.S.’s middle-skilled workforce? Cynthia Jenkins of South Laguna thinks it does, and her new enterprise, skillsgapp, holds enormous potential to open up career opportunities for youth not on the four-year college degree track but who’ll need more than a high school diploma to earn a decent wage as they make their way. Read More.

Manufacturing Day: The Day That Keeps on Giving

On Oct. 2, 2020 manufacturers around the country will open their doors so Gen Z can open their eyes to skills-based career paths. It’s not just a day of open dialogue, but also a day of opportunity. According to Creators Wanted, “MFG Day empowers manufacturers to come together to address their collective challenges so they can help their communities and future generations thrive.”

Everybody Wins

Companies benefit from Manufacturing Day because they get to showcase who they are and what they can offer the next workforce generation. This is key in eradicating the “dirty hands stigma”, which conjures up images of what manufacturing used to look like, preventing many Gen Zers from pursuing high-paying and plentiful middle-skills jobs. So Manufacturing Day serves as a compelling, ‘see-say’ platform that companies can leverage to attract Gen Z via their modernized operations.

The win for Gen Z lies in their exposure to the plethora of opportunities created by the skills gap. According to Deloitte, “It’s estimated that by 2025, 3.4 million manufacturing jobs will be needed, but 2 million of these jobs will go unfilled due to the talent shortage.” This means that Gen Z can get a jumpstart in making connections with employers in order to find inroads to successful careers. And by finding out which skills manufacturers are looking for, they can make strategic choices about which path they can take early on in their education.

Manufacturing Day During COVID-19 and Last-minute Tips For An Even Bigger Win. 

The coronavirus has changed the way that most industries, businesses and people operate. This year Manufacturing Day is different than in years past because it’s mostly gone virtual. But companies have already adapted in ways that allow Gen Z to easily participate in ways they are familiar with, and can access with ease. According to SNHU, “Generation Z employees are true digital natives in the sense that they’ve grown up with smartphones and other digital devices at their fingertips.”

Here are three last-minute tips that companies can use for a big win on manufacturing day. 

1. Companies must use visual content because it enables Gen Z to learn about them. Gen Zers are proactive learners who have grown up frequently using visual media like YouTube and Instagram. According to SNHU, “A recent Harris Poll found 60% of people between the ages of 14 and 23 look to YouTube when they want to gather information, and nearly the same percentage said the video-sharing platform contributed to their education.”

2. Companies should make their virtual or in-person experiences social for Gen Z. Gen Z has grown up with the ability to create online communities and collaborate with each other through those communities. It isn’t enough anymore for companies to simply post videos on manufacturing day, they must interact with Gen Z.

3. Use augmented reality and other mobile experiences. Gen Z is a mobile generation and they are accustomed to doing almost everything on their phones at any time of day. This means companies must meet Gen Z where they are on manufacturing day in order to reach them. 

Some companies already understand Gen Z well and have designed their experiences on Manufacturing Day to cater to their learning preferences. Allegion and Boeing are two great examples.

According to NAM, “Allegion will feature a full virtual experience planned through Microsoft Teams. It will provide a mixture of live and pre-recorded content, and will localize every event to ensure it’s most relevant to local students, said Allegion Reputation Management Leader Whitney Moorman.”

NAM also notes, “Boeing collaborated with external partners like high schools, colleges and community organizations to create an effective virtual program, said Boeing Senior Workforce Specialist Justin McCaffree. Its event will include videos of employees explaining their jobs and performing specific tasks, virtual tours of the company’s facilities, and videos from manufacturing interns and students. It will also offer students the opportunity to do virtual informational interviews with Boeing employees.

Why Not Make Every Day Manufacturing Day?

Based on the growing skills gap, combined with the increase in virtual access, everyday should be — and could be — Manufacturing Day in order to help companies fuel their talent pipeline. This would also enhance economic development, groom a more willing and qualified workforce, as well as provide a competitive edge within industry. 

Simply put, Gen Z, manufacturers and key advanced manufacturing regions need each other now more than ever in order to win at a sustainable future.

UBJ: skillsgapp combines video games with job training to spur rural economic development

As a mother, Tina Zwolinski doesn’t need to look at the statistics to know just how ubiquitous video games are in the lives of today’s younger generations. She need only look to her kids for that information.

But as the co-founder of the startup Skillsgapp, which uses video games to promote skills-based training, it helps to have the statistics on hand. Read more.