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Gamification Dynamics: Identity and Story
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Gamification Dynamics: Identity and Story

February 20, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

[In the first installment of this series on gamification, Badgeville's Tony Ventrice looked to frame the discussion around what's possible with gamification by attempting to discover what makes games fun. He has already explored Growth and Emotion and Choice and Competition, and in this article, he tackles Identity and Story.]


Identity describes the attributes that make an individual unique. At its most literal level, it's how we identify ourselves; a comparison of attributes against known or expected quantities. As an example, I'll start by listing a few attributes that describe myself.

I hate cantaloupe. I grew up in Northern California. I'm 31 years old. I enjoy board games.

That's not much to go on, but it's probably still enough for you to come to some vague conclusions about what kind of person I am; the quality of my tastes, my upbringing, where I am in my life, other activities I might enjoy.

If you did come to any conclusions, you arrived at them by making mental comparisons; comparisons made either between yourself and the described individual (me) or comparisons between that individual and other individuals you're aware of.

The Academics of Identity

In academics, the modern psychology of identity is largely based on the work of Erik Erikson, the man who, amongst other things, coined the term identity crisis.

While Erikson is best known for his model of identity evolving through the stages of life, much of the Neo-Eriksonian academic conversation centers on the idea of multiple "selves": from the idea that the person you feel you are inside does not always match the personas you take on in social contexts, including the concepts of identity exploration (that people experiment with identities before committing to them), social identity (the idea that a portion of the self is defined by the ideal of a group), and the ideal self (the identity an individual aspires to).

Together, the academics paint a picture of identity as dynamic and highly influenced, not the inborn template we're often led to believe it is.

The Two Sides of Identity

Considering the dynamic -- even experimental -- nature of identity, the value of role-play in games should be fairly obvious, but I think there is also a second topic worth discussing under the umbrella of identity in games: social purpose.

Role-playing. In the opening article, I noted that I was effectively splitting the proposed topic of Role-play between Choice and Identity. To Choice, went the empowerment of making decisions, to Identity, and what we'll discuss here: the opportunity to experiment with changing your persona.

Social Purpose. Social purpose describes a need for acceptance; more than simply making connections or meeting expectations, it implies an innate desire to provide some value to others. In the simplest of terms, social purpose asks that the individual feel needed. If he stopped playing the game, would others notice?

Before continuing, it's worth noting that while writing this, I became very tempted to abandon the word Identity entirely. After all, can't any preferences for fun be categorized as elements of identity? For example, aren't all the choices I make and forms of growth I seek part of my identity?

The conclusion I came to is this: all the other preferences can be thought of as implicit influencers of identity -- they are presumably pursued on their own merits and their influence on identity is a secondary result -- while what we're discussing now are explicit or self-aware influencers of identity, pursued for the purpose of influencing identity.

The distinction is made more confusing by the fact that it lies entirely in intent. For example: if I play football because I enjoy the competition and strategy, I'm doing it for competition and growth (challenges overcome). If I play football to fit in with the "popular crowd", I'm doing it to find identity (social purpose).


Although we might not always be consciously aware of it, identity plays a huge role in our daily lives. The identity we project forms preconceptions in the eyes of those we encounter. When meeting someone new you are likely to view known details as clues that can be used to make predictions.

Visible tattoos? Piercings? Leather? A flagrant disregard for authority? These are indicators used to represent identity. Sweater-vest? Slacks? Wire-rim glasses? A practical Swedish vehicle? These are also indicators of identity that tell a very different story.

While preconceptions may be viewed negatively in the context of attributes that aren't reflective of personal choice (such as race or gender), those that are reflective of personal choice provide invaluable cues to facilitate social interactions.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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