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Gamification Dynamics: Growth And Emotion
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Gamification Dynamics: Growth And Emotion

November 16, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Putting it in Practice

To investigate how growth might be integrated into a non-game environment, we'll look at each motivator in a general context.

Implementing Learning. Learning requires only a system of rules. Any system could suffice, but obviously the more nuanced and subtly deep, the longer learning will be sustained.

Unfortunately, there is an additional complication: the learning curve. Different users learn at different rates, and if you don't want to lose audience, the learning needs to accommodate a flexible rate of uptake. An ideal learning curve provides a simple basic layer of interaction with the opportunity for deeper emergent layers (strategies, situational rule changes, etc).

In general, you do not need to design to add learning; you need to design to manage the learning you already have. Try to simplify the required learning and push complexity into "end game" objectives for your more advanced users.

Supplementally, challenges and game trivia can be entertaining and validating for the learning process, if handled unobtrusively.

Implementing Order. This is where badges, trophies, and the current idea of "gamification" has already bridged the span from game to non-game experiences. Badge-based systems are not new; from children receiving gold stars for turning in their homework to military officers receiving chevrons on their shoulders, they are a familiar construct.

Any meaningful experience can be commemorated with symbolic measures and, for additional validation, badges can be linked to rewards or privileges. For example, gold stars might result in candy bars, while chevrons bring rank an increased chain of command.

Implementing Challenges Overcome. Here we're talking about the goal of overcoming opposition. The user wants feel magnitude and relevance -- that his accomplishments are rare and special.

Yet in reality it's logistically impossible for everyone to be exceptional. In a solo experience, where the player has no frame of reference as to how other players are doing, this isn't a problem, as it's not necessary to prove the magnitude of a victory. The game feels challenging, and there is no reason to think that it isn't.

I'd say this sense of challenges overcome is the one thing, more than any other, traditional video games have relied on for fun so far.

In social environments, where players can compare progress, the weight of accomplishments may be devalued. If I complete a difficult challenge only to discover that most people achieved the same result in less time or fewer attempts, much of the fun of the accomplishment is lost.

To maintain the illusion, more complex strategies are needed. Strategies such as 'framing' victory (you're the best over-forty, overtime, free-throw shooter) or simply sidestepping the problem entirely with misleading implications, such as letting both players in a competition think they're winning (I'm looking at you, Empires and Allies).

If deception isn't desirable, the best option is probably a mixed approach of solo and social challenges, with lots of little non-competitive victories to get users hooked, leading up to harder, more socially-contestable victories at the top: aspirational objectives to keep the most competitive achievers engaged.

Implementing Social Growth. There are a few provisions needed to foster social growth. First, there need to be venues of communication and collaboration. If players can't talk to each other and interact in any meaningful manner, there's no opportunity to make social connections.

Second, there needs to be a context, a social objective or at least a conversation starter.

Third, there needs to be persistence. Players need to be able to reconnect with the same people.

It should come as no surprise that these three are perhaps most clearly demonstrated by social networks, such as Facebook. Wall posts, messages, tags and comments constitute venues of communication, status updates and shares constitute context and the network itself represents persistent connections.

Intrinsic Motivators

When viewed collectively, the four motivations of growth often comprise a player's most basic intrinsic motivations -- motivations that the player carries with him into every context, be it a game, a job or an evening with friends. These are the motivations that, when actualized, are central to providing the long-term interest that keeps people engaged.


Emotion is potentially a vague or equivocal topic and worthy of a little investigation before we dive right in to defining what makes it fun.

Enlightened thinkers have been making lists of "primary" emotions for a long time, with some well-known names including Descartes and Hobbes. And while lists are interesting, typically, they haven't agreed on much beyond the fact that humans experience pleasure, pain, and some other stuff.

Fast-forwarding to the present, the situation doesn't seem to have changed much. Robert Plutchik [PDF link], who is something of a thought leader in the field of emotion, has created an eight-point wheel with four spokes: Anger-Terror, Anticipation-Surprise, Joy-Sadness, and Admiration-Loathing. Plutchik made some questionable choices with his model, like using two dimensions to represent four, placing the axis extremities in the center, and suggesting the whole thing be folded to form a cone.

Probably as no surprise, Plutchik's model largely results in nonsense when you try to put it to practical use -- where might I place jealousy? Pride? Lust? Pity?

James Russell [PDF link] proposed an alternate model with a much more logical method. His "circumplex" plots eight basic emotions on a two dimensional graph with Arousal to Sleepiness along one axis and Pleasure to Misery along the other. Excitement, Contentment, Depression and Distress are situated in the quadrants between. By limiting all emotion to an arousal scale and a pleasure scale, he at least proposes a measurable system.

While I don't believe there is anything wrong with Russell's model, it seems to be describing a different kind of emotion than the kind we're looking for. Russell's emotion is the primitive kind, the kind reptiles have, and not exactly the kind that is going to explain the appeal of a political satire or a taut thriller.

The fact seems to be, if we want a practical definition beyond a simple measure of pleasure and pain, our science has yet to provide. Fortunately for this investigation, there may be a way of approaching the question from another direction.

Since the dawn of recorded history, the stories we find entertaining have followed a consistent template: genres. And the interesting thing about genres is most of them happen to coincide directly with specific emotions: Suspense, Romance, Comedy, Horror, Adventure, Drama and Tragedy. While this isn't a comprehensive list of human emotion, it does appear to be a comprehensive list of emotions we explicitly seek for entertainment.

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