I Used Drive as an Excuse to Talk About Video Games (I’m Sorry)

Letting My Nerdiness Show

I like video games. I’d say it’s the activity that I spend most of my free time doing. But there is one part of almost every video game that I hate: tutorials. It’s that part at the very beginning of every game that teaches you how to play it. Why do I hate tutorials? Well, after reading Drive by Daniel H. Pink, I think I have a pretty solid answer to that question.

Most video game tutorials follow the pattern of giving you objectives in the game that slowly build up your understanding of how to play. You start the game up and you see somewhere on your screen the objective “press A to jump.” And then you do it, and the game congratulates or rewards you. Yay.

Here’s my first big problem with this, it follows the effect discovered in the study done by Lepper, Greene and Nisbett that Pink references in Drive. The study involved a group of students who enjoyed drawing in their free time. The students were divided into three groups. One group was told they would be rewarded after drawing, one group was not told they’d be rewarded but they were, and one group that was not told they would be rewarded and were not rewarded. The researchers found that the kids that were told they’d be rewarded after drawing “showed much less interest and spent much less time drawing.” Giving those kids a reward for drawing very quickly “turned play into work” (Pink, p.38).

The kids in that study started viewing drawing as work once they started receiving some extrinsic reward for it, and once something seems like work it’s no longer appealing as an activity. This same thing happens to me when I’m playing the tutorial of a game. They start giving me rewards for simply moving from one point to another. Then later, once the tutorial has ended and the game actually starts, those rewards for walking from point A to point B go away. Doing these menial tasks already feels like work since I was rewarded for doing them and so I lose my motivation to do these tasks that often are important parts of the game.

A really great explanation of rewards in video games. It talks about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation a lot and in a fun way! Most of what we’ve been talking about is found at the beginning of the video.

Additionally, tutorials are the death of creativity in video games. Much like Gluckberg’s candle experiment in which “the prospect of a prize narrowed participants’ focus and limited their ability to see an inventive, nonobvious solution” (Pink, p. 61). Tutorials take player’s hands and shows them exactly how they “should” play the game. There is no exploration, there’s no learning, it’s just information being given to you. If the tutorial objective is to walk from one place to another there would be no reason for me to do anything but take a straight path to that location. The prize of completing the objective just narrows my creativity and I don’t make my own discoveries.

Why Does This Matter in a Classroom?

Oh yeah, this is an educational blog. My bad, I get carried away sometimes. Here’s the thing though, I think these ideas translate very easily to the classroom. Tutorials are just the classrooms of the video games. In fact, because I’m going to be a teacher, I can fix all the problems I have with tutorials in my classroom.

All these issues with tutorials are really just breaking down my intrinsic motivation to play video games. When I play through tutorials I get so bored and disinterested. This same thing can happen to students in a classroom. When a student comes to class and they’re just told what to do, and what to think, they lose an intrinsic motivation to learn. As a teacher it’s my job to build up that intrinsic motivation so that they leave my classroom wanting to learn more and become life long learners.

My first step to building intrinsic motivation is taking a step back and letting the class lead itself. As Pink writes “Type I bosses relinquish control” (Pink, p.165). I hate it when video game tutorials take me through every single step of how to play a game, so I can’t allow myself to do that in my classroom. This will give my students a sense of responsibility. Pink cites three elements that build intrinsic motivation autonomy, mastery and purpose. This strategy will lean heavily into giving my students autonomy in the classroom.

Another strategy I will use to build intrinsic motivation is using Pink’s Sawyer Effect. This references the Twain Novel Adventure’s of Tom Sawyer, where young Tom convinces other kids to paint a fence for him by convincing them that it’s actually quite fun to paint a fence. If I can “trick” my students into finding school fun, they just might start liking it. There are plenty of fun projects that can turn physics into “phun,” like building catapults, or race tracks for toy cars, or the infamous egg drop. These are all projects that require the creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking needed in physics but are also fun to do.

A final strategy I will implement is the careful use goals. Many students come into school with the goal of getting good grades in class. The problem is that goals sometimes have negative effects on individuals. Creating goals sometimes makes “an extrinsic reward [(grades)] the only destination that matters” which leads some people to “choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road” (Pink, p.51).

The good grades that students seek sometimes unfortunately leads them to make bad decisions and be academically dishonest. I will be very careful with the grade I give my students, I will try my best to discourage students from simply wanting good grades and rather wanting to learn the material.

As a teacher I will strive to remove any “tutorial-like” material from my class, in order to intrinsically motivate my students to become life long learners.


  1. Tommy,
    Wow, I absolutely loved your post! It was so entertaining and held my attention the entire time. Relating video games to Drive was such a creative idea, I thoroughly enjoyed each section of your post. I really like how you connected the tutorials in the video games to how you want to run your classroom and stray away from tutorial-like teaching. This is such a great connection and powerful technique to take into the classroom. Thank you for such a creative and great idea!

  2. Hi, Tommy! I absolutely adore how you made the connection between Drive and video games!! You put a new perspective in my mind when you stated, “As a teacher I will strive to remove any “tutorial-like” material from my class, in order to intrinsically motivate my students to become life long learners.” These materials are definitely prominent in many classrooms today and it should be our goal to minimize them. One question I do have is, how would we minimize “tutorial-like” material that relates to safety in the classroom, or should we? With science comes labs and with labs comes the idea of safety. Would you encourage teachers to still show how to safely conduct numerous experiments? For example, adding acid to water instead of water to acid.

  3. Hi Tommy,

    I really enjoyed reading how you discussed the issues with tutorials in video games to the issues in modern day classrooms. The best kinds of games provide multiple ways to accomplish goals and promote creativeness to solve problems (I love TLoZ: Breath of the Wild cause of this). Are there any qualities of video games that you think would be useful for teaching?

  4. Tommy,
    I really like your video game analogy! And I know how you feel when a tutorial keeps holding your hand and makes you do things a certain way when you want to just go off an explore is the worst. Specifically in school though, how will you try to counteract the years of training the students have of doing things for the grade? In other words, how will you “discourage students from simply wanting good grades”?

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