The breakthrough happened after the student took the Bartle's Gamer Profile Quiz and we found out that he was a "killer." Off-the-charts killer, but achievement meant nothing to this student. Just like grades.
No, we haven't identified the next school shooter, and I sure wish that Bartle hadn't named one of the four gamer profiles "killer" -- but nonetheless, this student identified with this profile. Jane McGonigal mentioned it in her Gaming Can Make a Better World TED Talk when she discussed an epic meaning. My so-called "killer" student (and we really should rename this when applying it to education!) simply saw things as a battle between good and evil and wanted to fight on the side of good in an epic quest to make the world a better place. Points don't matter in gameplay, and grades don't matter, either. But when we tweaked the kinds of work he was doing in our Gamifi-ED project to focus on "world-changing games," he was suddenly engaged. Now his face lights up when he sees me. He's one of the first kids to class. He's an engaged gamer and, finally, an engaged student.