Did Cub Scouts Invent Gamification?
As an Assistant Cubmaster I’ve become well-acquainted with the gamification structure behind the Cub Scouts. Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts had gamification down long before the term came into common parlance:

...Ty McCormick starts his history in 1910 and completely overlooks the fact that Irving-based Boy Scouts of America were founded that same year and that they put in place a highly sophisticated gamification program. They gave kids incentives to learn and achieve by attaching badges, missions, levels and social recognition to tasks that at times could be boring or mundane. Pretty impressive for a time way before the invention of computers or the Internet!

Essentially, Cub Scouts progress through ranks (one might call them levels) by going on adventures (gamers would call them skills). Each rank (Bobcat, Tiger, Wolf, Bear, Webelos, Arrow of Light) requires a certain amount of adventures before they can move to the next level.  These adventures are identified by belt loops and pins, which means you can tell what a Scout has accomplished just by looking at his uniform. Perhaps most importantly, the Scouts are awarded their rank in a ceremony that’s viewed by their parents and peers. We do our best to make it feel like a big deal.

We’ve taken gamification to the logical conclusion in my pack by creating collectible cards for each of the adventures the Scouts can earn. Den leaders still give out belt loops, but at our pack meetings we give the Scouts and their families a reason to celebrate by giving out cards with each of the adventure icons on them. We’re even planning on having the Scouts make their own personalized deck boxes to keep the cards together.

Avoiding the Overjustification Effect

You often hear about how kids get rewards simply for showing up, creating an 

overjustification effect in which kids no longer value ranks or awards because everybody gets one. Not so in Scouts – if you don’t perform an adventure, you don’t get the belt loop. This can be daunting as it’s also obvious to the Scout when he didn’t do something and others did; it’s a powerful motivator and a tough lesson in achieving goals.

Self-Determination Theory: Relatedness

The Cub Scout system works hard on Competence, but it's also largely up to the kid, parent and den leaders to determine when a Scout has achieved an Adventure -- there aren't (usually) quizzes or tests of skill to confirm. In that respect Scouts have a lot of autonomy to proceed at their own pace, with the boundaries of their den and pack. But Scouts hits most on relatedness, binding the pack together with social activities and sharing in their success.

Gamification can learn a lot from Scouts. Coming together in groups with readily identifiable means of showing off your achievements is a lost art; all too often corporate America rewards in private lest other employees get jealous. Scouts uses the group interaction in a positive way, as a motivational tool to encourage the Scout to get better.

Join me at the Enterprise Gamification Forum on Wednesday, October 7 to explore this topic further at my session, “From Kids to Kidults: Gamification as We Grow Up (or Don’t)”.  Use code “SPK1015” and my name for a 50% discount!

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