In the world of fiction, there are many ways that characters can be motivated to act their best. Some may take the path of punishments, with characters facing negative consequences for their poor behavior. However, others may see the importance of positive reinforcement, and will instead give rewards to characters for their good behavior. Some might even take this a step further and create an entire system where points are awarded or taken away from characters for their respectable actions.
This trope can show up anywhere, but it most often shows up in household and academic settings. In the former, it'll usually be done to motivate children to do tasks they dislike, such as chores, while in the latter, it'll usually be done to encourage students to do their best or to get them to act kind towards their fellow classmates. Many examples of this trope involve the points being treated as a sort of Weird Currency, in which the points can be traded in for desirable rewards. But sometimes, the points may not function like such, instead serving as a simple Cosmetic Award that one can brag about.
Oftentimes, you can expect characters to become competitive over their rankings, even if that's not the point of the system; the Competition Freak in particular is susceptible to this. Some might also try to cheat the system to gain an advantage over others or to easily gain access to rewards.
This trope is indeed Truth in Television; many actual parents and teachers do this with the children they rule over, often for the same reasons as in fiction.
Compare The Swear Jar, a similar system of regulating characters' behavior, and Karma Meter, which is about video game mechanics that share a similar purpose to this trope.
- In Combatants Will Be Dispatched the Evil Point System is very much a part of the story background. Members of the villainous Kisaragi Secret Society get Evil Points for doing bad deeds and lose them for good ones or for embarrassing the organization. The point award is based on the distress felt by the victim and the guilt felt by the evildoer. Such points do get used for obtaining things. If you fall into a negative total you have to worry about a visit from the Retribution Squad and nobody wants to know what it is they will do. One gets the impression that this system was put in place because the people who ran the Kisaragi Organization feared that everyone in the organization, including themselves, would do a heel-face turn en masse if such a system were not in place.
- An early issue of Crayon Shin-chan has Shin's mother, Misae, devising a "Good boy" and "Bad boy" points system, on the basis that by collecting ten "Good boy" points within a week, Shin can get a Christmas present. Being Shin, however, by the end of the issue, he gets one "Good boy" point, while the "Bad boy" points leaderboard ends up running out of spaces.
- Great Teacher Onizuka: One of the central aspects of Misuzu Daimon's new regime is the usage of a point system to determine teacher pay, which naturally hits unconventional teachers like Onizuka the hardest (the demerits for dyed hair, being Asleep in Class, misusing school equipment, etc. add up to -100, meaning he'd get zero pay that month). He manages to flip the script by actually earning more than 100 points by getting a Hikikomori to return to school.
- Spy X Family: Eden has Stella Stars and Tonitrus Bolts. The former are granted to students for achieving feats such as being among the best in a test or outstanding civic behavior, while the latter are given for breaking school rules or failing exams. Eight Stars are needed to become an Imperial Scholar, while having eight Bolts results in immediate expulsion.
- In When Reason Fails, a Black Course student, either full student or candidate, can earn Contribution Points by various deeds. Roughly, any deed that positively reflects on a student's ability to survive the magical world, or doing something to the benefit of UA, earns contribution points. Aizawa gives Izuku the examples of killing something supernatural, learning a new spell, and surviving a danger-zone, but that is far from an exhaustive list. Izuku earned contribution points by successfully convincing Yagi in his personal capacity to investigate a mystery of personal interest to him, his Cabal earned contribution points by surviving an unexpected danger UA was not aware of that is far above their weight class, and bringing a potential attempted hacking to the attention of UA also earned them contribution points.
- School of Rock: The class have one of these charts before Ned Schneebly arrives. Students get gold stars for doing well in class and black dots as demerits if they fall behind. After Summer (who has more gold stars than anyone else) explains the rules of the chart Ned declares the system "sick" and rips it off the wall.
- In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the Sunday school gives tickets to students for memorizing Bible verses. Two verses are worth a blue ticket, ten blue tickets are worth a red ticket, ten red are worth one yellow, and with ten yellow tickets, which amounts to 2000 verses, one Bible is offered to the pupil. Tom Sawyer manages to buy points from other pupils with items they gave him the day before to paint his wall, and thus is given a Bible. One German-born pupil manages to get five or six books this way.
- In his autobiography Boy, Roald Dahl describes the system of stars and stripes that was used at his school. Good work was rewarded with a "quarter-star", and bad work or behavior was sanctioned with a "stripe", which automatically meant a thrashing from the headmaster. Boys who received a star or stripe had to declare it in front of the whole school.
- Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid: One anecdote focuses on Greg creating a rewards system for Rowley called "Li'l Goodies" — granting him a point for doing humiliating tasks, with Rowley getting a "fantastic prize" (hidden under a sheet) once he earns 50. Rowley does so, and Greg claims that the points reset at the start of each month, meaning he needs 50 more. Upset, Rowley rips the sheet off the "prize", finding that it's a basket of Greg's dirty laundry. Despite this, Rowley still plans to go for the "even better" prize that's worth 100 Li'l Goodies.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid:
- In Rodrick Rules, Susan creates a system called "Mom Bucks", in which Greg and Rodrick can earn a currency called Mom Bucks in place of actual money by doing chores. One Mom Buck is worth only a penny, and 100 would be equal to 1 dollar. She ultimately abandons the system when Greg attempts to cheat it after finding a large amount of the board game currency used for Mom Bucks at Rowley's house.
- In Hard Luck, Greg talks about how his school once implemented a system called "Hero Points" in an attempt to stop bullying. The idea was that if a student was seen being kind to someone else, they would earn a single Hero Point, and if a student got enough Hero Points, they could trade them in for prizes. The system quickly went horribly wrong, however, starting with people faking good deeds in front of teachers, followed by counterfeit Hero Points being produced and sold. The school tried making changes to the system to try to deter the illegitimate earning of Hero Points, but these attempts either failed or had negative consequences. After a janitor discovered a Hero Point-copying operation, the school decided to abandon the system.
- Harry Potter: Hogwarts has the house points system for the school's four houses. Students can earn points for their respective houses by performing positive actions (such as good deeds or doing well in class), but can also have them deducted for things such as rule-breaking. The points themselves are gems matching each house's respective color that are stored within large hourglasses.
- The Brittas Empire: According to "Assassin", Brittas uses a sticker-based award system, with the eventual award of dinner at the Berni Inn with him. Of course, since Brittas is a Pointy-Haired Boss, we see Gavin trying to get out of it by removing his stickers and giving them to someone else. However, he is caught by Brittas, who gives him more stickers for what he perceives to be a good act.
- The Good Place: The entire afterlife is dictated by a system based on this principle. Performing a high enough number of good deeds in life will land you a spot in the Good Place, an eternal paradise for only the most righteous humans, while everyone else will end up in the Bad Place to be tortured for eternity. The series later explores just how flawed and needlessly cruel this system actually is, especially once it's revealed that no human has made it to the Good Place in centuries, as the interconnectedness of humanity in the modern age means that even actions intended to be good will ultimately harm end up harming somebody else.
- Malcolm in the Middle: When Mr. Herkabe takes over the Gifted class he institutes a system to push the kids into competing with each other for points to rank their grades. Malcolm tries to convince his classmates to do poorly and tank the ratings but the other kids are all too scared of failing and leave him floundering at the bottom of the chart. Malcolm instead decides to break the system by doing so well and scoring so many points that his classmates have a collective nervous breakdown trying to keep up with him.
- My Name Is Earl: In the prison arc that comprises the first twelve episodes of Season 3, Earl (who took the blame for a crime his ex-wife Joy committed) acts like a model prisoner and does many things to turn the prison into less of a hellhole. For each act, the incompetent warden gifts Earl a certificate that takes some time off from his two-year sentence. The arc climaxes when the warden, out of fear of losing the benefits he reaped from taking credit for Earl's actions, shreds all of the certificates, forcing Earl to seek a different way to clear his name.
- Sesame Street: In "Don't Get Pushy", Telly starts an impromptu school, with Elmo and Rosita as his students. Gold stars are awarded to students who answer questions correctly, but taken away as punishment for infractions.
- Awesomenauts: According to Ayla's backstory, she's an Ax-Crazy Enfant Terrible who can be almost as dangerous to her allies as she is to her enemies. Despite this, the Awesomenauts still value her as a team member because she only needs a gold star sticker as payment for her services as a mercenary.
- Cookie Clicker: One of the production-doubling upgrades you can buy for factories is "Brownie point system". Its Flavor Text states that your factory employees can now be awarded "brownie points" for good behavior (which, in this case, includes things such as "working overtime" and "snitching on coworkers"). 58 brownie points earns a worker just a picture of a brownie, but 178 of those pictures (10324 points in total) earns them an actual brownie piece.
- Ms. Applegate from Kindergarten has a more unethical take on this trope: She gives gold stars to students who get their classmates killed, since she hates all of them. Her route centres around getting all the other children killed in various ways, and she rewards the protagonist with a gold star each time, as well as a lunch pass once you've gotten rid of them all.
- The accepted currency of Void Bastards is "Merits", yellow tickets marked with a blue "m". It's implied that they're corporate "Good Job!" stickers that evolved into money.
- Beyond A Steel Sky has the Qdos (pronounced "Kudos") system. Each citizen's social status is determined by their Qdos level, which is gained by conformist behavior. The higher your Qdos score is, the more services and luxury you have access to.
- I Was a Teenage Exocolonist: Kudos, the setting's currency, work like the Weird Currency variant, as they are entirely meant to reward others rather than oneself. One can receive them for any act that's appreciated by someone else, while taking them away is a possible means of punishing a disobedient child or work that was too sloppily done. They can also be earned from doing a needed job or doing well in school for an entire month.
- Paranatural: English teacher Mr. Starchman gives out "Starchman Stars" for answering questions in class. They are gold foil stars with Starchman's face on them that can be traded in for prizes. They are also used as currency among the students, such as for making bets or buying things at the student-run School Store.
- Tendies Stories, a type of greentext story from 4chan, has "Good Boy Points", a Weird Currency version of Wants a Prize for Basic Decency used to control manchildren. They are earned for things such as using the bathroom instead of the nearest convenient receptacle or cleaning one's room. They can be exchanged for real rewards, usually the neckbeard's favorite meal of chicken strips (referred to as "tendies") and Mountain Dew. These are often presented as ineffectual, as the critical step of punishing bad behavior is often neglected.
- Game Grumps: Discussed in their videos and reportedly practiced at their office. The Grumps manager, Brett, hands out homemade "Good Boy Coins" to the crew, presumably as an award for being, well... a "Good Boy" (or girl). Dan pointed out that he's the only person to have never received one, despite knowing Brett for years at that point. In one Ten Minute Power Hour episode, the Grumps make their own "Good Boy Coins" out of fondant so they can "flood the market" and also finally give Dan a coin.
- In the episode "Jeffy the Good Boy!", Jeffy wants to get a Playstation 5 and an Xbox Series X. Rosalina comes up with the idea for a good boy chart, where Jeffy will earn a gold star for good behavior, and lose one for bad behavior, and if Jeffy successfully gets 25 stars, then Mario will buy him one of the two new consoles. Black Yoshi hears about this and tries to make his own "gud Boi Charp" with 50 stars on it so he can get the consoles, which Mario doesn't fall for. Black Yoshi later tells Jeffy to trick both Rosalina and Mario by stealing the gold stars and putting them on the chart, then showing it to each of them so that they'll give him one of the two consoles. The plan works, as Mario buys Jeffy a PS5 and Rosalina buys Jeffy an Xbox Series X. When Rosalina and Mario find out that they each bought Jeffy a console, they find out about Jeffy and Black Yoshi's trick, and punish them both by playing the consoles right in front of them and not giving them a turn, given that they paid for the consoles with their own money.
- In "First Day of School!" Jackie Chu is the teacher at Y U Dumb? Elementary School, and has a gold star chart for each of the students. He gives his students gold stars for following directions and takes them away for bad behavior. He also explains that the student with the most gold stars will get a special surprise at the end of the year. On the first day, he gives Bowser Junior, Cody, Jeffy, Toad, Toadette, Patrick, and Atso gold stars for writing their names on their name tags on their desksnote He doesn't give Joseph a gold star for writing "Adolf Hitler" on his name tag, and he doesn't give Bully Bill a gold star for crumpling up his name tag into a ball. Later in the episode, Jackie Chu takes Junior's gold star away for knocking Joseph's desk over and puts him in the negative star category for knocking Cody's desk over. He also takes Jeffy's star away after Jeffy swears at him when he gives all the students homework.
- Adventure Time: In "Gold Stars", an upset Sweet P meets King of Ooo and Toronto, who offer to teach him to dance. Unbeknownst to Sweet P, the two are using him as a distraction so they can rob people. For his work, they give him gold stars, which Sweet P's parents hang on the fridge. Once the refrigerator is one star short of being fully covered, Sweet P heads to King of Ooo and Toronto's house to try to get one final star, only to overhear them discussing their true motives. When Sweet P accidentally gains their attention, they threaten to burn down his orchard unless he leaves his parents and dances with them forever. As they approach him, the fire from their torches end up reawakening the Lich within Sweet P, who thanks them for teaching him before giving them their "education". He tells them that before nothing, there were monsters, then says "Here's your gold star" as black gas comes out of his mouth. After that, Sweet P goes back to normal as King of Ooo and Toronto run away in fear.
- The Amazing World of Gumball: "The Fridge" revolves around Nicole's Reach for the Stars chart, on which she ranks each of her family members based off their accomplishments during the week. Gumball is the only one placed on the lowest tier, a position he is apathetic about. This motivates Nicole to get him to value winning. Gumball eventually manages to earn the second-highest spot, but by then, his siblings and father have become vicious over their placements on the chart. The next day, the family plays a game of paintball, with Nicole agreeing to remove the chart if Gumball wins. He indeed manages to give Nicole a Heel Realization and win, resulting in the chart being taken down.
- Clarence: In "Clarence's Millions", we see that Ms. Baker's class uses a "Buddy Star Chart" for this purpose. Jeff, naturally, has the most stars at 23, while Clarence has two (one of which is removed in the episode) and Sumo has a post-it marking that he has negative four.
- The Fairly OddParents!:
- In the episode "No Substitute for Crazy!", substitute teacher Ms. Sunshine gives her students gold stars for the simplest tasks, like answering questions (whether they be right or wrong) and going to the bathroom (Timmy even keeps a full pitcher of water on his desk so he can earn more stars). Ms. Sunshine is then revealed to be an evil fairy hunter named Ms. Doombringer, and the gold stars turn out to be magic-detecting devices that she planted to see which children have fairies.
- "Playdate of Doom" shows Poof to have a chart of gold stars his parents have used to reward his good behavior, with Foop having all of Poof's golden stars taken away by pretending Poof is bullying him.
- The Penguins of Madagascar: In "Marble Jarhead", Rico drives the car to a store after spotting a poster for Princess Ms. Perky accessories, causing the thermonuclear bomb the penguins have to explode. Due to this, he is put under marble jar probation, where he receives marbles when he behaves well and has them taken out of a jar when he misbehaves. Once it's full, he'll get the accessories. While he causes mischief like destroying Private's house of cards, he soon compensates for them like building a bigger one with regurgitated cards. After he battles Julien when he believes that the doll was kidnapped by the penguins, the jar is emptied, but he vomits dynamite to blow up jars of marbles in the store to fill up his and ultimately receives the reward.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: In "New Student Starfish", it's shown that Mrs. Puff has a "Good Noodle Board" system for her class, in which stars are placed next to her students' names on a board when they display good behavior. SpongeBob has by far the most stars, with a total of 74. However, when Mrs. Puff discovers an unflattering drawing of her made by Patrick, she believes that SpongeBob drew it and removes one of his Good Noodle Stars. Later in the episode, after SpongeBob and Patrick manage to save the unhatched egg of Roger when the light bulb that gives it warmth goes out, Mrs. Puff gives each of them a Good Noodle Star.
- Steven Universe: In "Steven vs. Amethyst", Pearl is shown to have created a system of "Pearl Points", which are awarded for, as she says:
Pearl: [...]"punctuality, perseverance, and positivity" during training. Getting enough Pearl Points allows one to choose an award from "Pearl's Prize Pouch".
- China's Social Credit system is this trope on a nationwide scale. The system changes your score depending on your behavior. It will raise the score if you act polite and don't indulge in extracurricular activities too much (such as only spending 1-2 hours playing games), while it will lower the score if you're being rude such as by playing loud music, getting into fights, and committing traffic violations. Depending on what score you might have, you may not get access to certain services.
- Author Dav Pilkey once recounted a story from his childhood involving his teacher hanging a board with nails in it — one per student — on the classroom wall, adding bread bag clips to a nail whenever the corresponding kid performed well on schoolwork or did a good deed. As expected, this resulted in the students going out of their way to acquire more clips — particularly one classmate who was already an Insufferable Genius.note Dav felt this was "too aggressive for [his] tastes" and eventually brought the system to an end by covertly tipping over the board, causing it to fall and leaving it impossible to count the bread clips properly.