Gamification Basics

Gamification, or the use of game mechanics to increase engagement in non-play activities, is becoming more mainstream. Yet, we see that just using points or leaderboards doesn’t always make the cut. Can narratives be used to make gamification more enagaging? the answer is yes. Here’s how:

what is your story narrative

According to Karl Kapp, there are two types of gamification:

  • Structural Gamification which is based on existing content, badges, points, leaderboards and similar tools; and

  • Content-based Gamification which uses game simulations with elements such as story, goals, feedback and play.

According to Kapp, the he main difference between the two is that structural gamification rewards “natural winners”, the top ten percent who tend to be at the top of the leaderboard on a regular basis. Content-based gamification engages the middle 70 % employees, those whose behavior modification, through motivation and inspiration, would make a bigger change.

Reeves and Read in their book Total Engagement: How Games and Virtual Worlds Are Changing the Way People Work and Businesses Compete” list the ten ingredients for great multiplayer games. These, in my opinion, are great pointers of what makes games truly engaging and immersive.  This is the short of it: Self-representation with avatars; three-dimensional environments; narrative context; feedback; reputations, ranks and levels; marketplaces and economies; competition under rules that are explicit and enforced; teams; parallel communication systems that can be easily configured; time pressure.

Let’s focus on the third element of “great games”: “narrative context”.

“Good games have good backstories – galaxies at war, people who need rescue, or places that may soon be destroyed. Such narratives guide action and organize character roles, rewards and group action”, say Reeves and Read. Stories have important emotional advantages that keep people engaged. Being human implies that stories are a way of generating meaning. Stories are important to basic human thinking and the process of making sense of the world. They are important to emotional experience and social expertise. When we stick to the facts, sometimes we find the facts are plain uninteresting. But stories always are.

Narratives can be used for gamification – brining in enagagment, meaning and clear calls to action, showing employees how to get on a path to mastery. Here are some key benefits of using narratives for gamification:

  1. Narratives tell players what to do
  2. A narrative helps the playereasily understand his path to mastery
  3. They increase excitement and attention
  4. If there is conflict within the narrative players will always want to reduce it and they will always strive for a resolution. When conflicts are resolved people feel good.
  5. It is easier to form memories when something is told as a story, and therefore better undergo on-boarding, learning and training
  6. Narratives can easily hold complex scenarios, requiring behavioral change on multiple levels rather than keeping players focused on just one KPI
  7. Game mechanics promote competition, but mixing group narratives within them promotes cooperation.

Using narratives together with gamification, and using them consistently over time, can have great results. Narratives make engagement easier and longer. When teams play “contests” or “leagues” (playing the same game over and over again, with an opportunity to re-collect a new score each week) the organization can implement a continuous improvement process with sustainable results. Even if an individual or a team did not do well one week, they are likely to do better the following week. An important outcome of the continuity and game repetition is a path to mastery achieved by the employee.

Narratives can be used to communicate complex business goals, creating a holistic alignment of game mechanics to the underlying business goals. For instance, balancing between the different, sometimes contradictory requirements for good customer service can be better done through a narrative.  Stories capture the imagination of our internal primite selves.  Using them can help employees engage and see how their efforts tie in to the greater enterprise goals.

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