Paying My Kids to Play Videogames?

I’ve decided to pay my kids $1 for each hour they play videogames. My wife isn’t too happy, but my sons are thrilled.

Turns out we’ve got this thing called “internal drive,” and money screws it up. According to Dan H. Pink’s book (Drive), there have been numerous studies on how external rewards can actually reduce someone’s intrinsic “flow” with something. Tell a kid who likes to draw that you’ll reward him for drawing, and he’ll actually draw less. This runs counter to typical motivational theory (carrot for desired behavior, and stick for bad), but I’m a psychology major. I rarely trust conventional wisdom.

Well, Mr. Pink. I’ll let you know how it works out. My wife isn’t very happy with this decision, and I told her if she reads Drive and still feels that way I’ll cancel the experiment. My two sons want me to wake them up at 5:00 am to start, and you can bet I will. If you’re right, this will temporarily motivate them to play more. But eventually they’ll lose their intrinsic desire to play the DS obsessively, and see it as labor.

I actually believe this will work. Our previous attempts to reward behavior (stars, stickers, cash) have indeed worked only temporarily. And I can relate to the depleted motivation that comes with something that is a means to cash instead of a creative outlet. I’ve found that when I get paid to make a video (sponsored) it feels less fun. I start noticing how much time it takes, and I’m often less excited by the outcome. Before long, I see the act of making even non-commercial videos as a chore.

This could explain YouTube burnout, which I’ve otherwise written off to the shallow, empty feeling of “popularity,” and the curse of making videos for other people (instead of for the satisfaction alone).

I can say with confidence that most of the top YouTube personalities are motivated by factors beyond money. Some are after artistic expression. Others want to help people or entertain them. Some may simply seek external approval or fans. The money that comes from YouTube’s Partner program is wonderful. But if it’s the primary focus, it becomes work. And then the videos suffer.

Whatya think? If my wife doesn’t squash my experiment, will it work?

13 Replies to “Paying My Kids to Play Videogames?”

  1. If it’s Charlie and Grant, then it will only work on Charlie. He will get tired of it.

    I can’t see Patrick wanting to wake up early, but if it’s him, of course he will tire early and see it as work.

    If it’s Grant. You’re gonna be dishing out some dough. 🙂

  2. Okay editorial note, bson. Just woke up Patrick and Grant at 5 am. Told them they were late- and needed to get gaming. They are both playing in the guest room.

  3. Dude, you’re not thinkin’… If you don’t want Jo to pull the plug, cut her in on the action…

    For every hour she lets you continue to pay the kids to play video games, offer her 10 bucks.

    I predict by the end of this week, you’ll be broke, the kids will be cross-eyed, and Joey will have a whole bunch of new shoes.

    It’s win-win… Of course, YOU lose, but as a husband and father, that’s what one does.

  4. I think the experiment has potential. However, I would suggest some additional factors to make it seem more like work. Require that they game on a strict schedule where any gaming outside of certain hours is unrewarded and have them meticulously log their playing times down to the minute. Also, consider mandating a minimal amount of time per day.

    I think BSoN is right; Grant may cost you a good amount of money.

  5. WOW!

    Kevin. You’re intense. Don’t screw with Patrick’s sleep schedule too much for your own experimentation, though.

    He’s 9. Remember? “Shhh…Patrick is sleeping….” Said by Patrick himself…hmm?

    Enjoy experimenting with Grant, though.

    See you guys in a freaking week! Maybe? Depending on your craptastic weather…

    You can use Dudley for some views. How bout that?

  6. By pure coincidence I just finished reading Dan’s book Drive and was surprised with his research.

    Who would have thought that money incentives would actually drive down the quality of the video, or blog post, or project whatever.

    I guess this goes back to the theory that people want to be part of something bigger than themselves, and we want to make an impact on the world.

    Be sure to update the status of this experiment Nalts, all of your readers would love to see if the Drive theory applies to kids and video game addiction. If it does then you could be onto something here.

  7. I don’t think this will work. Unlike your video making, there is no pressure on them for results. No one will judge their work. They’re getting paid for mindlessly sitting and doing something they would do for hours for free anyway. It will only work if some pressure is applied, like a schedule, as has been mentioned before.

    I’ll be getting paid significantly more per hour to read and respond to this blog over the next two weeks, as I am on vacation now.

  8. I think anonymous has a point. If there is no pressure whatsoever, then there isn’t too much of a reason for them not to play as usual (after a week or two of excessive gaming) with the perk of getting paid.

    There has to be some sense of obligation and some sort of consequences if they fail to perform adequately.

    Also, consider decreasing compensation over time until they feel like you’re ripping them off.

  9. I was thinking hard about the schedule thing, and I think I might have a better solution. Allow them to only play ONE game. They can pick the game, but then they have to stick with that one.

    I’m interested to see how this goes. It reminds me of a case I studied in college where people were paid something like 1k a day to dig holes and then fill them back in (over and over again but at any speed they wanted). After a few days everyone involved had quit.

  10. You’re wrong on this one NALTS.
    EG: If I went downtown to 6th street in LA and went up to some crack heads and told them I would pay them ten dollars for every day they got stoned, they aren’t going to wake up one day and say, “Wow, I’m cured…THANKS JARED”.
    Studies show, these games are addictive. To add to the problem is that the ‘high’ can be controlled in it’s variety and intensity. They have at their option increasingly new and improved games that change/increase the high. In some ways it is more alluring than heroine or meth, where, although intense, the high is always the same predictable one. With video games, as technology advances there are regular improvements to the euphoria.
    Why do you think there are guys like that Andy Murray (Tennis Star), who are OK with breaking up with their hottie girlfriend if it means the alternative is giving up the joystick.

    I am afraid that the only way to limit play is to make your kids hate you (like mine do) and simply limit the time to say…Saturdays. That’s how we do it at the Cicon house.

    Okay, maybe if you insert some mechanism like: Never purchasing any new games ever again, they may eventually get bored of the ones they have, after they complete all of the ‘levels’. But even then, it is not the ’employed ‘factor that is detering them, it is still just plain old meanie parenting limiting variety. Trust me, similar to peer pressure with drugs, your kids would go to school and their buddies would ask if they saw the new ‘DEMON MIND SUCKERS’ game???, “What, ou haven’t played MIND SUCKERS???” “Man lever 32 has this morphing black hole with fangs…it’s so cool” etc. etc. etc. and they will do whatever they need to do to get it. Even if it means getting it through a friend and paying for it with the money you have been paying them.

    I have 4 kids. My oldest is 17 in April. I have tried everything in the book, and the only thing that ever worked is being firm, and limiting it to a single day. After a while (grounding etc.) when they see you mean business, the protests start to minimize. But their begging never completely goes away. Parenting sucks.

  11. This is interesting – not sure about doing this experiment on your own kids…

    that said, a few random thoughts.

    this reminds me of the stage mom syndrome – the kids will tire and end up hating it especially, if forced. Kids need to learn there is a purpose to doing something in life, I think they are born with that natural yearning – it’s an observation currently. Video games aren’t purposeful. They develop few skills, cause more damage across the board and create nothing. It’s a piss poor way to escape on a regular bases, but there go the masses.

    This also reminded me of the lesson of getting caught smoking – making a kid smoke a whole pack of cigarettes.
    Did that ever work?

    One thing that isn’t being considered is the data on kids brain development and the effects of computer. You might want to look into that a bit more. Especially, the MRI scans, these might actually scare the crap out of you and have you racing to pull the plugs.

    Personally, I think the kids will tire if forced – computers aren’t for tikes anyway, they should be outside playing, exploring and experiencing the 3d world along with bonding and fighting with real people. In my world if a kid wants a computer they need to build one first, then they can become social outcasts.

    I agree this far with the author – to love what you do and get paid for it on your time table is the best – to love what you do and have to make a living at it not as good, but it could be worse, like now, I’m doing what I have to do in order to do what I love to do which kinda sucks. However, I am open to those who wish to support my endeavors, share my great ideas and creativity with like minds, if there are any out there not playing computer games.

    So far those folks have been few and far between…

    Personally, I’d prefer to experience what I love to do the way Monet was able to experienced what he loved to do.

    Anything’s possible.

  12. Here’s what worked for my kids. NO video game consoles in the house AT ALL. They were allowed to only play PC games that we installed and approved of. They were only allowed to play for 1/2 hour per day. They had no TV, game console or computer in their rooms. NO online gaming whatsoever.

    Of course, my kids are 24 and 21 and we had dial-up most of the time they were young. But I think the worst disservice parents do for their kids is to let them have TVs, etc. in their rooms, and to not restrict their gaming and TV watching time.

    My HO, that’s all.

  13. Mkay so here’s the update so far. Patrick told me, with some hesitation and guilt, last evening that he only logged about 30 minutes. I gave him two quarters. Grant admitted he had done none. This morning they were both asleep when I left. Likely less an indictor that this is working short-term (which I wouldn’t expect) and rather a temporary result of the obvious. They were wiped out because they had 2 hours added to their day. But the quest continues (not withstanding the vigorous objections).

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