The Intrinsic and Extrinsic Reward of rescuing the princess


The R in my A to Z of Gamification, looks at the the relationship between rewards and our intrinsic or extrinsic motivations to take on any challenge.

The lens of games is one of the most interesting to consider this through because by its definition games place unnecessary obstacles in the way of a voluntary goal. The opposite of what most of us try to achieve in our daily lives.

Creating an enjoyable game and increasing the commitment the player has to its outcomes isn’t about simply up-ing what’s at stake. Consider the changing story presented by these different presentations of a familiar hero’s quest.

The QuestThe thoughts of one Average JoeyThe Motivation behind accepting
The king’s edict calls on all brave heroes to retrieve the golden goose and be richly rewarded. The scroll is pinned to the door of the inn and we laugh at it with the farmers, clerks and shop keepers."We’re not heroes! Who does this king think he is, that I would risk my life. I think I’d rather stay at home, thanks."Amotivation, feeling of incompetence and no intention of doing it. Quest NOT accepted
But what if ... The king orders all able-adventurers to go forth or be thrown in prison. Return successfully and you shall have the princess’ or prince’s (if you prefer) hand in marriage and inherit the kingdom."Inheriting the kingdom sounds pretty awesome and better than getting thrown in jail. That king is a real bastard though."Extrinsic Motivation: External Regulation – Compliance through rewards and punishment
…The town’s people all step forward one-by-one. They gather up their backpacks and blunted swords. Their faces grim and resolute to face what is ahead. I take down my father’s old adventuring sword, can I follow in his footsteps?"Only the cowards would run and hide now. How can I not go? I must."Extrinsic Motivation: Introjected Regulation, somewhat externally driven. Linked to pride, shame or guilt
…The princess comes to wish the departing adventurers luck on their journey. She wipes a tear from her eye. She has no desire to see so many of us go and never return. I grip the hilt of my father’s sword, feeling the ridges of where his hand gripped."To free the princess and this land from the tyranny of the king, I must go."Extrinsic Motivation: Identified Regulation, but somewhat internal driven from valuing the goal or activity
…The night before we leave, I dream of my father. We sit in the firelight of a winter’s night as he sharpens his sword. He tells me of the sweet song the golden goose sings, a song for passing sailors to tempt them to her island in the sea. He teaches me this song and swears we will bring her back."This is my destiny! My father’s last adventure and my first one. I will bring the goose back and be the hero my father said I could be."Extrinsic Motivation: Integrated Regulation, internally driven by the goal being integrated with own values and needs

The external reward of the quest remains the same throughout the above example; riches, marriage or the kingdom. However, the motivation that is driving the player varies massively as illustrated by the points depicted along a self-determination continuum. These points move from Amotivation through to four different types of Extrinsic Motivation, which come from psychology’s Self Determination Theory.

The internal thoughts of the Average Joey in this story show that some extrinsic motivation can still be driven by internal needs and values. It is a common misunderstanding to think that anything internally driven must be intrinsic.


For the quest to be intrinsically motivated, the motivation would need to not only be internally driven, but come from the interest and inherent enjoyment of the activity. The goal leads us to a feeling of being ourselves without expectation of reward, so even had there been no princess, no goose, no kingdom.

Here therefore is the last part of the story:

…I board the ship the next day, the dream still fresh in my head. I lick my lips to the taste of the sea as it sails into those open waters. The slash of a sword across a monster guarding some secret fills me with a thrill never felt before. I pour over the maps and revel in the shouts of joy as we trace the story of another treasure to be found, to the ends of the world.


3 thoughts on “The Intrinsic and Extrinsic Reward of rescuing the princess

  1. Well, I followed this link from Jaimie Ramsey’s blog and I have to say ….having read the above piece I have absolutely no idea what you are on about!!! But it made me laugh, so thank you for that!

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