Why do games work? Because they put the player in control of things, and provide a safe environment for exploration. Can game mechanics be applied to the real world? Of course, there are a lot of examples already.
I graduated information design with merit with my bachelor thesis Glücksschmiede, exploring neuroscience, psychology and their application to interaction & game design.
“The Great Debate” by The Escapist’s Cory Rydell and Greg Carter
Of all the criticism thrown at Anita Sarkeesian, the bitching about her decision to disable YouTube comments in the face of an an organized campaign of harassment is the most misguided. It’s a dumb position for a couple of reasons. First, it implies that anyone who makes a video is honor-bound to lend their credibility and popularity to the opposing argument, they are not. Second, it implies YouTube comments contain anything that could remotely be called criticism, they do not. “I hope you get raped,” is not criticism. “Feminazi whore,” is not criticism. “Make me a sandwich,” is not criticism, nor is it funny.
My computer reaches high temperature when it’ s working!
Why do not take advantage of it?? You bring food from home and heat it!
Once upon a time, there was a building of giant proportions. Towering over the WORLD, it was spreading words of unquestionable TRUTH. The little people living down in the valley were listening intently.
In their little homes they were sitting in front of their little boxes – receiving words of unquestionable TRUTH. The little people would not ask and doubt, because their little boxes would not listen. Depending on their little boxes to tell them about the TRUTH and the WORLD, they were locked in their little homes.
In spite of being locked into his little home, there was a little kid having BIG DREAMS. He did not care about TRUTH and the WORLD. He turned away from the little box and looked to the CLOUD outside his window. There were a lot of faces to be found amidst the CLOUD – and they were happily exchanging thoughts and feelings. Opening the window of his little home, the little kid took flight – and left the WORLD. Because the unquestionable TRUTH was: YOU ARE LITTLE. But he didn’t care.
And he tweeted happily ever after.
I enjoyed the social aspects of the internet early-on. Being part of the Austrian Ö3 online community was quite popular back in 1998. Social interactions were relying on the usage of internet handles – like masks you could wear to protect yourself from any real-world repercussions.
Being someone else was also a big incentive for playing Ultima Online on a free server. I enjoyed the online companionship of fellows all over German-speaking Europe. We co-created a virtual world – built ourselves an enjoyable place in cyberspace called Mystical Islands. Some of us would be players, others would be game masters as well. Not only creating characters, cityscapes and cultures: but also creating MEANINGFUL MOMENTS. Moments, that would make great stories back then.
I think Social Media create SPACEs to express ourselves. To meet and live. Although our Ultima Online experience was not as far spread as Facebook, I still think both serve similar purposes. Facebook is a virtual world too. You look through a rectangular screen and see its features – like a spiritual MEDIUM (think ghost whisperer) staring through a crytal ball. We see faces, opinions, interesting pictures. But the content does not come from the media vendor. It comes from the users.
We can also take a look at the game-like aspects of Social Media. Jon Puleston already wrote something regarding the game mechanics of Social Media. Comparing Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – and how their rule systems function.
Some examples of game-like pride in users of Social Media:
Social media games revolve around personal impact. Are my ideas attractive/witty enough, so people will pick them up? Do people care about my thoughts? Are they entertained? Are they frustrated? How can I get this celebrity to (openly) reply to me?
Users make games out of social interaction all the time. Most of the time we would not think about our behavior in the context of games. It is much like Jesse Schell wrote in his book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses – “Play is manipulation that indulges curiosity.”
It is all about unspeakingly asking questions: Can we make it? Are we truly able to affect our environment? Are we able to make others believe in our thoughts?
The social spreading of messages (or polemically spoken TRUTH) is nothing new. In fact, the archaic nature of personal communication and association with one another (clique, peer groups, clan, family) has much to do with the rampant spreading of todays Social Media. Being locked into the role of information consumer did not feel natural to me. I had to speak my mind; and I still do it almost every time I watch TV. If TV is denying me my ability to TALK BACK, Twitter is an option. Twitter is a myriad of fleeting voices and chaotic babbling; but if you take your time and tune into certain hashtags, you might catch a glimpse of what people think.
It even made the #ESC Eurovision Song Contest entertaining.
Speak your mind.
Social Rank Gauge with Upkeep Mechanic
You have probably seen something like this on several sites. Active users gain experience points, which fills up the level gauge. At certain stages of the gauge the user gains a new rank.
What’s different? If you take a close look, you will see a dotted line with a star above it. That’s the star rank, reserved for those user who contribute on a regular basis. So the mechanic of a classic level system is turned around once users are very active. They have to be active (giving high quality feedback eg.) to sustain their rank. This is called upkeep, and if the player is inactive for too long, he simply falls back to the last level (I used Mitglied L3 here, which is kind of uninspiring to be fair).
But why would you do that? Why would you take away points? That’s just crazy right?
Well, it is a sort of new challenge. Gamification measures should not distract from the desired activity (which is participation in our case), but after a certain point you have to provide more challenge. Of course every player will see each other’s rank. There is a constant match at high levels, but low-level users can work themselves up towards the higher ranks. If you use an open-ended level system (like Level 310) this is a rather daunting challenge for a newbie.
Especially in an environment where you would consider yourself a professional in the real world, and now the gamified social web application tells you you’re a newbie. That just seems bothersome, but it is even more of a problem if you cannot ever reach those who have been active years ago – those users, who are not even actively contributing anymore.
Though I have to admit we don’t celebrate it in Austria ;)
Take care folks
Hey folks. If you followed my recent tweets you might have stumbled over a few odd pictures. Probably they did not make a lot of sense, but I will try to let you in on the secret.
It’s all about the mood.
UPDATE: I’ve updated the emo/skill system graphic. enjoy!
Emotions fulfil a function in our existence. They drive us to act in certain ways, often at the loss of more rational thought. No matter how cerebral you may think yourself to be, emotions have a big impact on everyday behaviour. Emotions are fleeting bursts of experience, and even the – so called negative ones – are required. Fear: if a lion was to show up you better run fast, it ensures survival. Grief: if you are hurt, it might help to show your fellows that you are in need of support. Anger: someone is taking away your food? Okay – you get the picture, and of course you are free to stop reading now, call me ignorant of philosophical implications and ethics… but, if you are in for it, read on.
In the headline, I said the post was going to talk about moods, not emotions. The difference lies in the duration and frequency here. As of now I could not find a good list of moods, so – for the sake of getting my game done – I wanted to pick a few words that I could use as understandable concepts. I am not exactly scientific in this regard; I am a game designer first and foremost nevertheless. Please feel free to help me out on that matter, if you like to share. A mood is the residue of several emotional activations over the course of days, weeks or months. Feeling sad over a period of time is called melancholia, eg.
But to keep it simple, I went for:
Leading a life of joy will make you a different person, with different skills. If you live under constant fear, you are more cautious, looking for danger constantly. Maybe you are even good at hiding, bluffing people or avoiding whatever situation you are afraid off. In the game I take this a step further.
I connect the moods to different powers that are used in the other part of the game: the face to face storytelling experience. If you are not familiar with tabletop storytelling, google Dungeons & Dragons. You’ll get the idea. Roleplaying techniques have been used in psychotherapy as well. To me storytelling has always had a certain quality to explore human reactions to challenging situations – now I want to connect the real player’s emotional structure with his character’s in-game abilities.
Players unlock and discover their character’s ability by answering survey-like scenarios. They are presented with several options (subtly connected to the five emotions), to get a sort of emotional feedback from the player. If you ever filled out a (pseudo-) psychological test on facebook, you know that there is a certain curiosity driving people to find out about themselves. Even if the test or result is not scientific, really stupid or plain insulting – a lot of people post their results and encourage others to also try the tests. The facebook part of the game is like a constant font of questions you can answer.
But players are not always able to self-reflect all their actions. Sometimes they may even want to cheat (and I am happy to get that sort of interaction, because it shows engagement). Anyway, I want the player’s friends to answer some questions about the player. First this generates traffic to the game, but also it serves as an outside opinion that can be counterchecked to what the player thought would be his reaction.
So, the following illustration is the biggest one in the posting. Bear with me, my writing is hopefully legible in some way. I am really trying to produce a few good feedback mechanics (both hot & viscerally pleasing, but also cool & lasting).
Well! Hope you enjoyed my short introduction to my current project. This is my first try at explaining this; and I still have to go over the topic iteratively. Nevertheless, I thought you maybe enjoyed seeing some so-far secret scribbles and ideas.
If you are interested in target groups, personas and scenarios, you will have to wait a bit. I have a few user-centered design documents up my sleeve, but nothing I can present currently.
Overjustification effect argues that extrinsic motivation subsumes intrinsic motivation; and if you stop the extrinsic motiviation, there will be no intrinsic motivation left. If we use rewards (like points or achievements in gamification), we are going to reduce the intrinsic motivation of an action – right?
Well. The overjustification study is controversal, and I think rightly so. The problem lies even deeper: it’s about the distinction of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. I like the example Gabe Zichermann provides in his Google Tech Talk on gamification:
Billy starts playing the piano, and he really likes it (presumed intrinsic motivation). His parents realise this, and get him into competitive piano (talent shows and the like). He wins prizes (presumed extrinsic motivation through rewards) and goes on. But if you then take away the prizes and awards (he just doesn’t win anymore), he will stop playing piano generally.
So what has happened in this example? You take the extrinsic motivation away, and Billy can find no more fun in playing piano at all. It is believed that he is spoiled by been given rewards – but is that really the case?
Radical Theory on Control
When we learn to do something – like playing the piano – we start out small, and slowly ramp up on the difficulty. According to FLOW (by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi) optimal experience happens when challenges and abilities are in balance. Neuroscience teaches us how the brain activates moments of happiness, when we experience something that is better than expected: positive emotional engagement means learning. We learn through direct, multiple experiences automatically: through neural activation. And games are perfect learning settings: they start out fairly easy and ramp up on the difficulty (again). Good games are designed to adapt to the player’s abilities.
If you stick to the easy levels of a game (or hobby/skill), you will soon get bored by it – there are no discoveries, there is no happiness. Either you try something more challenging, or you look for an entirely different thing to do.
So what does that have to do with the overjustification effect?
At first Billy is happy because he learns to play the piano. As soon as his parents get involved, it’s NOT about playing the piano anymore. It is about controlling the parents: being praised for the good work. Playing the piano becomes a secondary action through mastery/training, like experienced car drivers who do NOT think (consciously) about how to shift gears. It’s not about shifting gears anymore – Billy’s expectations and goals have changed greatly. He is trying to control the affection he receives from his parents (or peers). If the appreciation is taken away, playing the piano (as general action) does no good job at influencing his parents. He will get frustrated to play the piano, because the purpose it used to serve is rendered ineffective. Each of us has a different frustration tolerance, but it is clear what will happen next. Yes, he will stop playing the piano; but it is not because it was some weird “outside” force that motivated him.
The motivation he had from playing the piano, winning prizes for his parents (or himself), was intrinsic in and of itself! He discovered a method to control his environment, which is basically what the brain achieves to do all the time anyway. If it proves to be ineffective, frustration ensures the person tries other things to achieve happiness/affection.
That’s my radical theory: there is no extrinsic motivation; there is but sense of control and curiosity to exploit systems. If something is not of use anymore, frustration stops the behaviour that was proven to be ineffective.
What do we learn from this?
Games are structured activities. They are environments – or even realities. If you create a game, introduce mechanics/rules, you better stick to them consistently – or at least expand them logically. If a certain action is not effective in achieving a desired goal (or expectation), it is soon dropped in favour of better forms of enjoyment.
The brain knows playful behaviour (happiness, playful exploration) without games already. If we introduce game mechanics we better stick to them, and don’t confuse people with contradictory rules.
Let me know your thoughts!
Gabe replied to my blog post on gamification.co!
Read his reply here: Overjustification, Replacement, Rewards