Raph Koster在《A Theory of Fun》中指出：
Jesse Schell在《The Art of Game Design》的看法则是：
我完全同意这二位的说法。我自己也做过几乎相同的定义：（趣味性就是）有趣的决策（Sid Meier也说过同样的话）。我下此结论的原因是，我个人很喜欢游戏中的“决策”和“ 挑战”元素。
正如上文所述，游戏设计师已有自己的答案，那就是游戏趣味性的要素之一：学习。我认为这确实是一个恰当的说法，有些游戏的趣味性几乎完全围绕“学习”而设计，例如《魔 术方块》（Rubik’s Cube）和《珠玑妙算》（Mastermind）。
如果你看过Salen和Zimmerman的《Rules of Play》，那就应该听说过社会学家Roger Caillois对四种玩游戏形式的看法：
游戏设计师Marc LeBlanc所列出的元素比Caillois更详细和实用，尽管从他的职业来看我应该将其划分到上文的内容中，但我发现他的工作更适合从学术角度发表观点（游戏邦注 ：Marc LeBlanc与美国西北大学的学者合作甚密）。
举例来说，我发现《Apples to Apples》是一款傻气十足的游戏——它的赢家是随机选择的，但我还是喜欢玩这款游戏。为什么？因为我发现自己会忽略其中的竞争和学习元素， 总是沉浸于社交互动和众人欢笑之中。对我来说，友谊就是我玩这款游戏的唯一原因。
人们常把心流状态用于描述“平衡的难度”，或者将其视为另一种心理状态而忽略它。我认为这个话题比以上的任何一种解释都要有趣得多，它当然也应该纳入我们的趣味元素列 表中。如果要说明哪些心流状态可以称为“游戏”，我可能会以重复将球弹向墙壁的现象为例。尽管此类活动也包含学习技能的要素，不过我认为这种技能并无价值，也许应该包 含更多有意义的内容。
如果你将故事（它包括幻想和叙事）的概念忽略不计，就会发现角色扮演和表现这两者十分相似。它们都可以提供一种让你无拘无束，表达自我主张和新价值观的机会。这似乎又 贯穿了两种元素：身份和选择。身份很重要，但它实际上在本列表其他元素中已无所不在（如下文），因此不再赘述其意义。由此可见，选择，或称为自主权确实该在本列表中占 据一席之地的元素。
成长描述的是一种拥有方向和前进的感觉。它是人类的一项基本内容，我们长大成人的首要挑战，中年危机的普遍来源。你问小孩他们长大后想干什么，相当于是在问他们的未来 规划，人生方向。等到你步入暮年之时，回顾自己的过去，就会因自己的成就而获得满足感。这些成就始于何时，终于何处？当我们之前所谈的理想都一一实现时，我们的整个人 生就可以归纳为一个成长的故事。
尽管这种分类法有助于我们了解不同人的差异，但从属性和原型来看，这种分类法可能存在一定导误性（例如，以甲壳虫乐队为例，使其四个成员对号入座）。若从属性层面上看 ，我们确实清楚这种分类法只是针对个体的差异性而言，但如果考虑到动机因素，它很容易让人误以为这些“类型”适用于所有人。换句话说，每个个体都有可能比其他人更明显 具备某项特征，不过从一定角度上来讲，这些分类对所有人来说都有一定参照价值。
为了维持玩家的胜利感，我们设计游戏时需要采取更复杂的策略。例如定制多种胜利结果，或者简单地避开这个问题，让参与竞争的双手都误认为自己赢了（游戏邦注：作者认为 《Empires and Allies》就是这方面的典型）。
James Russell则提出了一个更具逻辑性的模型，他绘制的二维图表中分布着8种情感，纵轴是觉醒–沉睡，横轴是快乐–痛苦。兴奋、满足、沮丧、悲伤则顺时针分布于这四个象 限之间。
悬念（或惊悚）或许是游戏中最常见的情感类型，此类游戏通常会设置未知的结果。完全采用悬念元素的游戏包括《Water-balloon Toss》、《Crocodile Dentist》和《Don’t Wake Daddy》。
爱情也常与悬念相联系。这方面的例子包括日本恋爱模拟游戏《神秘约会》，转瓶游戏和脱衣扑克。有些人可能会认为调情和约会是配对游戏中的一个环节，我认为在线社交游戏 中的性紧张现象也可以划入这个范畴（例如《Zynga Poker》中就有许多用户调情行为）。
喜剧是《Taboo》、《Once Upon a Time》、《Balderdash》和《Apples to Apples》等许多创意派对游戏的主要目标。《Balderdash》和《Apples to Apples》这两者甚至还通过 投票机制奖励那些最搞笑的玩家。
游戏的故事情节也常运用戏剧元素（JRPG游戏最为典型），但在实际玩法中，游戏会更侧重怀疑和野心等竞争性层面。多人游戏通常会对竞争和协作的平衡性提出要求，《Avalon Hill’s Diplomacy》就是巧妙结合信任、恐惧和内疚等戏剧元素的少数典型代表之一。
事实上，我们其实无法满足自己的大多数心理冲动。因为我们知道一些行动的后果，以及不计后果会带来的风险，所以我们会克制自己的行为。但这种自律心理有时会让我们纠结 和烦恼。我们很想表达自己的意愿，尽情地做自己想做的事情。人们谈到“无拘无束”一词时，基本上是指放下一切束缚、规矩和限制——通过躲藏到自己的小巢、进行远足或者 玩电子游戏等安全的地方，满足自己的一部分小冲动心理。
游戏中的影响：我们可以将游戏视为一个系统，玩家则是系统中的一分子。玩家在游戏中通常以虚拟形象示人，但有时候则像是一个不可见其形的天神，以其无穷的力量影响游戏 世界的变化。无论是哪种情形，我们进行游戏设计时都必须承认玩家对游戏的影响力。玩家对游戏施加的影响各不相同，既包括可一直产生回应的操作，也包含那些导致玩家需持 续重建游戏世界的行为。
道德感并不仅局限于现实主义的电子游戏。Brenda Brathwaite广为人知的试验性桌面游戏《Train》也通过简单的玩具火车和木制人质呈现游戏中的道德压力。该游戏的目标是让 玩家尽可能在火车箱中塞入更多人质，然后将车箱推向轨道，它让玩家将自己想象成一个把人质押送到集中营的德国军官。
在学术界，现代身份心理学方面的研究多以Erik Erikson的理论为基础，他提出了“身份危机”的概念。这位美国心理学家因提出人生不同阶段的身份发展模型而得名，许多新 Eriksonian学术研究主要围绕多种“自我”而展开：你认为自己是个什么样的人，这通常与你在社会环境中所表现出的自我并不相同，其中包括身份探索（人们尝试成为某种身份 的人），社会身份（游戏邦注：也称社会认同），以及理想自我（个体所追求的身份）。
纪念性价值：在现实世界中，开昂贵的名车或穿着气派是一种成功的外在表现，对许多成功人士来说，他们希望找到谦逊与炫耀之间的平衡。在虚拟社区（如游戏）中，人们对谦 逊的重视程度多取决于系统本身特点。假如显示身份是约定俗成的惯例，那么人们就不会将其视为一种庸俗的“炫耀”。例如军官制服所别的一系列肩章，在军队环境中，这种显 示身份的做法并非不得体的表现。
有款纸牌游戏名为《Once Upon a Time》，它要求玩家抽取纸牌以综合话题，并最终完成一个共同即兴创作的故事。
被动叙述 vs 交互式叙述
令人愉悦的叙述一般都是精心制作的内容。它们会细心刻画角色故事背景，设计富有吸引力的秘密，拥有高潮迭宕的变化，以及令人情绪起伏的情节。Robert McKee备受赞誉的剧 本写作指南《Story》一书就详细列出了整个创作过程的要求。
Quantic Dream作品《幻象杀手/华氏温度计》就是线性故事脚本的一个极端典型。该游戏甚至自称交互式电影，在主菜单显示“开始新电影”，并采用“返回”而非“重玩”按钮 。
实际运用中的被动叙述：将被动叙述植入非游戏体验的做法，与将其引入游戏内容的方式并无不同。因为游戏与网站或应用程序一样，原本就不是被动叙述的适用环境。以前的纸 牌游戏、桌游和体育运动都没有被动故事元素。直到角色扮演游戏，以及文本冒险游戏和《吃豆娘》（Ms. Pac-Man）中的过场动画问世，被动叙述元素才算被引进游戏玩法之中。
这里我们可以使用80年代情景喜剧《Alf》为例，该剧的幻想内容描述了一个爱挖苦、爱猫、外向的外星人不幸在一个乡下家庭车库紧急着陆的故事。这就是该剧的幻想元素，而电 视剧的其他内容均取材于现实生活。《Alf》幻想元素的强大之处就在于，它能够使这个假设前提成立。假如Alf一开始就能跟外界沟通，找到工作和老婆，那么这种幻想可能就会 缺乏一致性和可信度。
Gamification: Framing The Discussion
by Tony Ventrice
[As a prelude to a full-on examination of gamification, Badgeville's Tony Ventrice digs deep into what makes games games, using work that's come before as a basis to explore this new tool -- the first of his ongoing series of articles on gamification.]
A lot has been said about gamification recently, and a lot of circular arguing has gone around what it means to compare an experience to a game.
I have two responses to this discussion:
1. “Gamification” as a term is indeed opportunistic and vague. While the word seems to imply a land-grab for everything that is great about games, in current practice it only represents points and badges: loyalty and reputation systems.
2. Games have a lot to offer, and the current form of gamification isn’t a bad place to start. There is a lot to be gained from tying loyalty and reputation systems to a website or product and, as the concept evolves, other aspects of gameplay are sure to follow.
What I would like to do is define the full scope of what makes games fun (not a trivial task by any means) and then explore the practical application to real-world businesses. This journey will be made in multiple parts.
Part 1 will be to dissect the concept at the intersection of the following words: Game, Fun, Play. The objective will be to end with a list of aspects — aspects of what make games fun.
Each of the following parts will explore how these aspects might be applied to business enterprise.
What Makes a Game Fun?
This question has been asked many times, by both academics and game designers. A common conclusion on the game design side is that games represent choice and learning. I’ll let a few of the most prominent experts in game design put it in their words.
Raph Koster says in A Theory of Fun:
Fun is the act of mastering a problem mentally.
Jesse Schell says in The Art of Game Design:
A game is a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude.
I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, I came to basically the same conclusion when I defined gameplay for myself as: interesting decisions (apparently Sid Meier said the same thing — I may have got it from him.) I came to this conclusion because personally decisions and challenge are what I enjoy about games when I play them.
And this definition is perfectly functional if you’re designing games for people like me and Raph and Jesse; games like the video game industry has been designing for the past 30 years, and will go on designing for the next 30 years. A deeper understanding is only really useful if it’s your job to deconstruct a game and rebuild the “fun” in a completely new context, like, say, a corporate website.
An Unexpected Truth
Gradually, we’ve seen examples of games where the learning has been peeled away. FarmVille and Foursquare are evidence that people are willing to call something a “game” even if the decisions are vapid and the learning is simplistic. Defining a game by choices and solutions doesn’t seem to be enough anymore.
An argument can be made to defend the old definition. There is learning in FarmVille, if just a little bit. And Foursquare, well, I suppose you learn where you have a chance at maintaining mayor status and where you don’t…
But I’m not buying it. The fact is, the learning aspect to these “games” is so thin it hardly counts. Even if you posit that the average FarmVille player is less intelligent than the average “real game” player, it doesn’t explain why FarmVille players play for so long — we’re talking about months, more than enough time for even a simpleton to learn everything there is to know in the game.
The truth is, we have only two options: either refuse to call these things “games” or admit that there is more to games than just learning.
But before we move on, we’ll give the old definition one more chance. We’ll note that Schell and Koster didn’t say games were just learning, they said games were learning with a playful or fun attitude. Raph elaborates:
The lesson here is that fun is contextual. The reasons why we are engaging in an activity matter a lot.
So, the definition of a fun game is more than just learning, and neither Koster nor Schell has found it simple enough to condense into a one-sentence definition. Fun, it turns out is a very tricky word.
Once Again: What Makes a Game Fun?
The game designers had their say, and have given us the first aspect of fun for our list: learning. I think it’s a suitable first element, and examples of games where the fun is represented almost solely by learning might include pattern-solving puzzles like Rubik’s Cube or Mastermind.
I’m sure the designers have a lot more to say on the topic but, in the interests of time, I’d like to give the academics a turn now.
If you’ve read Salen and Zimmerman’s Rules of Play, you’ve heard of the sociologist Roger Caillois. Caillois posits there are four forms of play:
Competition, Chance, Role Playing and Altered Perception
The list seems rather arbitrary. As a sociologist, Caillois is not a game designer, but you have to appreciate the distance he’s given himself in his definition. And I think he’s made some rather unique observations.
Competition seems like an obvious addition to our list — almost any activity that can be measured has been turned into a game at one point or another, from spotting out-of-state license plates to shoveling coal faster than the other guy.
Role Playing also seems obvious — what other way can you explain children playing house, or firemen, or any other game young children play?
Altered Perception is probably Caillois’ most interesting proposal. From recreational drug use to rolling down a grassy hill and then attempting to run in a straight line, altered perception is an undeniable, albeit often over-looked aspect of play.
It even turns up in video games occasionally (some games “mess” with the player by distorting the reality of the game rules unexpectedly, while others bombard the player with lights and sounds, resulting in a “trippy” experience). I’m tempted to include altered perception to our list — yet, by and large, this is not an aspect of play with many practical applications, particularly in the context of business, so out of the interest of space, I’ll omit it.
Finally we have Chance. Chance is a mechanic desirable in competitive play to avoid deterministic outcomes. Given two players of unequal skill, in a game without chance, the outcome is known before the game even begins. Chance is a very important mechanic for game balancing and building suspense (something I’ ll get to later), but not inherently fun, or a reason, per se, to play a game.
Game designer Marc LeBlanc gives us a slightly longer and more practical list than Caillois. While LeBlanc might find better company in the previous section with the other designers, I’ve included him here because in his work he’s chosen to take a more academic approach (he’s even collaborated with academics at Northwestern University).
LeBlanc’s list of eight kinds of fun:
Sensation, Fellowship, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Discovery, Expression, Submission
In the interest of time, I’ll cut through these quickly, picking out which to keep based on their value to our investigation.
Sensation might include fun things like the plunge of a rollercoaster, a runner’s high, or a pleasant massage — but in the context of gamified experiences, it is probably even less useful than Altered Perception.
Fellowship introduces the idea of a social aspect — a sense of friendship or belonging. Finding a single game represented purely by fellowship is difficult, but many people choose to play party games solely for this reason.
For example, I find Apples to Apples to be an asinine game — winners are chosen arbitrarily — yet I enjoy playing the game. Why? I find that to enjoy the game, I ignore the implied competition and learning, and focus instead on enjoying the social interplay and collective laughing. For me, the only reason to play Apples to Apples is the Fellowship.
Fantasy and Narrative are relevant but quite similar (I’d say they respectively describe the premise and events of a story). I don’t know if anyone would call a story a game, but in watching the interplay of a campfire story or a bedtime story you can’t help but see the similarities and at least admit the presence of fun.
Many games contain stories, and I have even heard of people playing games that were terrible simply because they wanted to know how the story turned out. I think this is enough evidence of fun to keep these two — at least as a single shared entry in our list.
Challenge and Discovery are What Koster and Schell were talking about (the player discovers new techniques and applies them to challenging problems) so we’ll categorize these with learnign.
Expression is very similar to role playing, and we’ll group the two for now and see if we can’t come up with a common feature.
Submission is, honestly, a bit unexpected. LeBlanc defines Submission as “game as mindless pastime”. Although this is a very tempting addition to our list, it unfortunately says nothing informative. By this inclusion, 3:00 AM television infomercials are fun, and I think anyone can agree that such a stretch results in a definition far too broad for our urposes.
We’ve made it through Marc’s list and retained 6 out of his 8 items, at least in some respect.
Next, I’d like to introduce an academic named Nicole Lazzaro. Nicole’s study covers the basics of choice and challenge that we’ve already talked about, but what she does differently is focus her studies around the emotional state of gamers.
In her own words:
Game Advertising Online
Our results revealed that people play games not so much for the game itself as for the experience the game creates: an adrenaline rush, a vicarious adventure, a mental challenge; or the structure games provide, such as a moment of solitude or the company of friends.
While she seems to view every aspect of a game from the perspective of emotion (and the utility of this perspective may be questionable) she does raise a worthy point: pure emotions most likely have a role in the concept of “fun”.
After all, why do people watch scary movies, flirt with their own spouses, play practical jokes on each other, or play Crocodile Dentist? They find surges of emotion like fear, arousal, humor, suspense and surprise to be fun.
I have one more academic who never seems to get integrated properly into these discussions, and his name is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi is the foremost expert in what we know as flow. In his own words, flow is:
Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz.
Flow is often used to mean “balanced difficulty”, or is just as often dismissed as simply another emotional state. I believe the topic is actually much more interesting than either of these interpretations, and warrants its own entry in our list. For examples of flow that might be called “games”, I might cite bouncing a ball repeated off a wall or flinging cards at a hat. While these activities do involve learning a skill, I think the fact that it is a worthless skill might be indicative of something else going on.
What Makes a Game Fun? A Summary
We’ve heard from some of the most recognized experts on the subject (hopefully I haven’t abbreviated their voices unfairly), done some paring for utility, and here’s our working list of features that make games fun:
1. Learning / Challenge / Discovery
2. Role Playing / Expression
5. Fantasy / Narrative
Before moving on, I’d like to do a little editing — nothing serious, just some renaming and a little shifting of shared similarities. I’ll include my reasons below for anyone who cares to argue.
We now have a list of aspects that make games fun. I believe any proposed addition can be categorized under one or more of these seven. If it can’t, I’m more than willing to add another entry (or acknowledge and dismiss it, like sensation).
If we take the word “game” to be defined as: an activity engaged in for the pursuit of fun (and this is basically how the dictionary defines it), I think we’re ready to move on with our analysis of gamification.
In further articles, I will address each of the aspects on our list, what they might look like independent from the rest and how they might be used in a context outside of traditional gaming. Given the breadth of the content, I won’t be able to go into exacting detail, but I hope to cover each enough to set a trajectory towards further constructive thought.
How I Arrived At the List
For our first entry, we already have three proposed names: learning, challenge, and discovery. I would like to propose a fourth to represent them all: growth. Growth conveys an unequivocal sense of going somewhere, improving on a previous state.
What I prefer about “growth” is that it cuts more directly to the center of the desired experience than the others; I might be learning something, but not feeling as if it’s progressing towards any useful end. I might be challenged, but resent it as an unnecessary or pointless obstacle. I might discover something, but feel it to be irrelevant. Only growth clearly conveys both personal development and a positive experience.
Once you filter out the concept of story (covered under fantasy and narrative), role playing and expression are actually very similar. They describe an opportunity to assert the values that make you who you are and the freedom to try out new values without judgment. This seems to convey two things: identity and choice. Identity is important, but it’s already been covered elsewhere on the list (see below). That leaves us with choice, or autonomy, which is important enough to warrant an entry of its own.
Fellowship is a funny word that can’t help but conjure up images of Hobbits. What we’re really talking about here is a sense of belonging — a role, or place, in a social context. Nothing seems to describe it better than identity. I know who I am, and so does everyone else. While fellowship implies a purely friendly social relationship, friendship may be too specific — it’s probably safe to say almost everyone desires a sense of identity, but not everyone craves harmony and alliance.
For fantasy / narrative, as I mentioned earlier, these two respectively describe the premise and events of a Story. “Narrative” is a probably the more inclusive of the two, but yet seems too cold to properly convey the fun feeling of getting wrapped up in an engaging story. The users call it “story”, and I feel it makes the most sense to do the same.
[In the first installment of this series, Badgeville's Tony Ventrice looked to frame the discussion around what's possible with gamification by attempting to discover what makes games fun. In this article, Ventrice delves into the first two of his seven identified dynamics of game design.]
Growth describes a sense of direction and progress. It is a fundamental aspect of humanity, the first great challenge of adulthood, and a typical source of midlife crisis. When you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, you’re asking about their plan, their direction for life. When, old and shrunken, you look back
over your life, satisfaction lies in what you’ve accomplished. Where did you start and where did you end up? When all is said and done, our entire existence is summed up as a story of growth.
Types of Growth
Growth comes in different guises, and depending on what you value and where you are in life, the ways in which you seek and measure growth will be different.
For children, growth is literal: from the physical growth of their bodies to their gradual accumulation of adult privilege and responsibility, they are effectively growing to become “complete” and functioning adults.
But what happens when a child is all grown up? How does the definition of the word change? What is the meaning of growth for adults?
Even from a young age, children begin to supplement their literal growth with other forms — things like an expansion of knowledge, a record of accomplishments, an accumulation of order, and a network of friends. Once the body stops growing, and the basic rules of society are understood, the pursuit of these other dimensions continues, guiding us through the rest of our lives.
Not only do these other forms of growth provide individual motivation, they are, in many ways, the underpinning of our societies. Our desire for learning solves problems; our desire for competition challenges stagnation and finds optimizations; our desire for order preserves and protects; and our desire for connections promotes cooperation and bonds us together.
Now, most people probably never catalog their accomplishments by category, and there’s certainly no universally recognized list of measures, but I believe the four I’ve listed are fairly comprehensive — and if you bear with me a little longer, I’ll try to illustrate why.
The four basic types of adult growth:
While thinking about the measures of growth, I realized the list I was making resembled some other lists I’ve seen before — namely the Bartle test, the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, the four humors of antiquity, or really any other form of personality classification system. Yet these systems tend to focus on determining personality types. Could it be that they also identify the general preferences along which people strive for growth?
seek questions and learning
seek order, balance and validation
seek competition and challenges
seek interactions and connections
While useful to understanding possible differences between individuals, I think these designations have always been potentially misleading when thought of as attributes or archetypes (such as the implication of the Beatles example). As attributes, there is a tendency to think only in terms of differences, but when considered as motivations, it’s easier to think of these four “types” as actually being present to varying degrees in all humans. In other words, an individual probably values one form of growth more than another but ultimately they’re all valuable, in some degree, to everyone.
Four Types of Growth, in Context
How do these four forms of growth manifest in game design?
Learning. Learning comes from deciphering the rules of a system. Typically, this follows a pattern of trial and error, forming hypotheses and testing them within the game environment.
To take a game like Street Fighter II as an example, the learning is in first mastering each move, then discovering effective combos, and finally identifying the best situational opportunities in which to use them.
Although learning is a means towards a competitive edge, it can also be a pleasurable end in itself; learning simply for the sake of the process. Why is the card game Bridge so widely appealing? Is it because there is always something more to learn?
Order. Order may seem like an odd way of defining growth, but I think it makes more sense if thought of from the perspective of rules.
There is a basic human desire to believe life has meaning and purpose and for this to be true, there must be implicit rules — concepts of correct and incorrect behavior. As a dimension of personal growth, order represents pursuit of following the correct path, however the individual may choose to define it.
In most video games, the motivation of order boils down to the act of following rules for rewards: collecting sets, completing tasks and leveling up. Those who seek order desire situations where the rules are clear and simple adherence is all that is needed to succeed. They prefer frequent and literal validation that the system functions and that it is guiding them towards a greater objective or higher status.
Challenges Overcome. If some thrive in order, others thrive in chaos. Life is constantly challenging and humans must adapt to survive against adversity. While the process may be exhilarating, it can also be painful and unpleasant; in real life, many challenges cannot be overcome at all, leading to discouragement.
Games offer a pleasant escape in that the challenges they present are almost always surmountable. In fact, if they aren’t, your design probably has a serious problem.
The difficulty with implementing challenge comes in the balance: too easy and it’s not challenging, too hard and it’s discouraging. Challenge-driven players need a regular cycle of challenge and success.
Connections. As Donne wrote, no man is an island. Making connections and sustaining relationships is deeply ingrained in all spheres of our lives and underlies our very concepts of civilization and society.
In games, social growth manifests as interdependencies — people who need you and people you need. From World of Warcraft raids to CityVille gift exchanges, the more connections and the deeper the dependencies, the more rewarding the experience will be to the socially-driven player.
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.
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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.
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?
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.
The Emotions of Entertainment
In game design, multiple emotions often turn up woven together in complex stories, but for our purposes we’ll attempt to address them in isolation, as part of the game experience itself, using the simplest, most pure examples possible.
Suspense (or Thriller) is perhaps the most common emotion in games, and turns up in any game with an uncertain outcome. An entire genre of kids’ games (that I like to call “Russian Roulette games”) is based entirely on suspense and includes the Water-balloon Toss, Crocodile Dentist, and Don’t Wake Daddy.
But more than these, any games that build on anxiety contain suspense, such as children playing hide and seek in a dark house, the card game Slap-Jack, and the aspect of survival horror games in which monsters spring on you from unexpected directions.
Romance has a few representatives that often share duty with suspense; Mystery Date is a weak example, as are likely those dating simulators sold in Japan.
Less vicarious examples include spin the bottle and strip poker; some would argue actual flirting and dating are part of a ritualistic mating game. I would also add that situations where sexual tension might develop in online social games should count (I certainly saw plenty of flirting when I was working on Zynga’s poker.)
Comedy is clearly a driving objective of many creativity-based party games like Taboo, Once Upon a Time, Balderdash, and Apples to Apples. The latter two even directly reward humor via voting mechanics.
Yet you probably won’t find more than a passing mention of comedy in these game’s rules; comedy instead seems to be an emotion just waiting to happen anywhere players are given the context to express themselves in a free format. As evidence, you probably don’t have to look any further than the activity of your friends on your Facebook wall to find a series of quips and one-liners.
Horror as entertainment requires a certain terrifying visceral experience that aims to instill disgust and build a sense of dread. While gladiatorial combat was probably quite the spectacle in its time, in the modern era horror as entertainment is largely limited to pure narrative fantasy. Horror games are usually clearly packaged, including the likes of FEAR, Resident Evil, BioShock and Dead Space.
Adventure covers just about every video game featuring a protagonist ever made. The player overcomes adversaries, cheats death, and races against time. In a lot of ways, adventure sits at the intersection of many of the other emotional genres; a little bit thriller, horror, comedy, suspense, and even romance. It covers none of these emotions too deeply, and perhaps this balance is what makes an adventure so universally appealing (and so unlikely to be obtained in
simple non-game experiences).
Drama is something of an umbrella term. Dramas tend to cover a range of emotions not already mentioned; things like jealousy, suspicion, honor, guilt, greed, ambition, ennui, and repression. Collectively, they seem to describe nterpersonal relations taken to dysfunctional extremes.
Game stories certainly take advantage of drama regularly (any JRPG), but in actual gameplay, games tend to rely on the more competitive aspects like suspicion and ambition. Multiplayer games that require balancing competition and cooperation, like Avalon Hill’s Diplomacy, represent the rare few that accurately model the emotional strain of shifting trust, honor and guilt of real drama.
Tragedy seems to be the least-represented emotional genre, with only the rare game dedicated to it (Shadow of the Colossus and Sword and Sworcery are two examples and both play tragedy with subtlety).
But this should be expected: to constitute a tragedy, the experience must ultimately be a failure, and failure is not a satisfactory outcome in most game designs. Although it is worth observing that, in most multiplayer games, everyone but the winner ultimately fails, and that in itself is something of a controlled tragedy.
Emotion is a difficult element to instill into games. It tends to be highly contextual and not usually pursued as an explicit objective beyond the scope of traditional story-telling. When considering emotion as a gameplay objective, I think it’s beneficial to view the available emotions in three groups of utility:
Those that integrate well with traditional game mechanics: Suspense
Those that can be worked into a design, if the proper considerations are taken: Romance, Comedy, Drama
Those that really only work in the context of a story: Horror, Adventure, Tragedy
[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. Two dynamics he explored before were Growth and Emotion, and in this article, he tackles Choice and Competition.]
Choice The word “choice” could be defined to describe strategic choices or tactical risks. But those are topics we already covered when we discussed growth, learning, and overcoming challenges. The definition I would like to discuss now is: the freedom to choose and the freedom to act. To put it another way, I’d like to talk about autonomy.
Many of our modern cultures are founded on the concept of autonomy as an inborn right. We give it names like: freedom, liberty, and expression. It is a favorite topic of philosophers, and an investigation of the subject could easily lead to the likes of Locke and Kant, but for our purposes it shouldn’t be necessary to go that far.
Instead, I’d like to stick to simple definitions. To start, I think it’s safe to say every autonomous choice implies three potential considerations: impulse, influence, and morality. The desire to effect change, understanding the results of that change, and the moral implications of those results.
I’ll reiterate that these are possible considerations; a choice need not consider all three, but only a minimum of one (if it considered none, it would be essentially random, and not really much of a choice at all).
To act on a sensation. Impulse is a very rudimentary aspect of the human psyche. I want something and I take it. I wonder what something feels like and I do it. Yet, as these two statements probably have already implied, we cannot follow through with many of our impulses.
In fact, I would estimate most of our impulses go unfulfilled. We know the repercussions of acting out, the risks of ignoring consequences, and we restrain ourselves.
But all this self-editing can be tiring. We yearn to express ourselves, to feel unhindered, free to do as we please. When people talk about “unwinding”, they’re talking about dropping all the restraint, the rules and restrictions — of going someplace safe where they can fulfill at least a small subset of impulse; be it a den, a hike, or a video game.
Influence simply states that for an action, there will be a reaction; for a choice, there will be a result. In the case of pure impulse, this relationship is rather banal: I choose strawberry jam because it will give me greater sensory pleasure than grape.
But in the case of choice based on predicted long-term influence, influence can be profound and life changing: I chose to pursue a Computer Science degree in Los Angeles and that choice directly influenced every event in my life thereafter, from the people I met to the places I went and the things I’ve done.
It’s also worth noting that choices not only have an effect on ourselves, they often affect others and our environment. And we typically like this. We the like feeling that our presence makes a difference. When it doesn’t, our role comes into question — sometimes even our very existence. If my actions have no impact, why am I even here?
To break this down even a little more, lets look into these different dimensions of influence:
Self. At the fundamental level, people in Western cultures feel a need to have an influence over their own fate. This is a primary expectation and carries some degree of responsibility (I am responsible for what happens to me). If I climb on the roof and fall off, I have to deal with the injuries I incur.
Environment. At the next level, people feel a need to have an influence over their environment — to change the conditions that surround them. This is a secondary expectation, and carries a moderate degree of responsibility (I am part of an environment and my actions will impact the future resources of this space). If while climbing on the roof, I damage it, I will have to deal with the leaks when it rains.
Others. At the third level, many people like having an effect on others, to share in their autonomy. This is a tertiary expectation, and can carry a high degree of responsibility (I have an influence over what happens to other people). If I cause someone else to get on the roof, I may be responsible if they fall off and hurt themselves.
The third aspect of autonomous choice is morality. Morality implies that, for many decisions, there are universally acknowledged right and wrong options. The moral guidelines are defined by society and may not always be in agreement with the desires of the individual.
Morality becomes a choice precisely when the desires of the self and the society are not in agreement; does the individual follow personal impulse or the precepts of decency? One the one hand, personal gain; on the other, social approval.
In strong societies, the choice of morality comes couched in the threat of punishment. For the punishment-fearing individual, real moral choice may be limited to the mostly trivial cases. For example, I may make the immoral choice to turn right at a red light without stopping (a minor moral infraction), but I would probably never consider murdering someone (a major infraction).
What we are talking about are laws and laws represent just the simplest example of society’s influence on individual choice. Society’s influence comes in other forms, less formal rules, things like decency, chivalry, respect and politeness. Each a form of moral choice, each adherent to standards determined by society. The rules are less formal than laws and so are the punishments. If I am rude, I’m not thrown in jail, but I may find that other people are less willing to cooperate with me.
Morality becomes interesting and potentially fun when you remove the threat of punishment. Many consider this to be the true test of moral fiber — will you defer your personal desires to those of the society, even when the society is unable to enforce its rules?
Impulse, Influence, and Morality in Games
Impulse in games. By virtue of the simple fact that games have limitations, they can be said to have rules. The player can not do anything he likes inside a game; in fact, there is very little a player can do inside a game compared to the real world. Yet, people often find games more liberating than real life.
This is because while many games model reality, these models are generally accepted to be simplifications or surrealistic interpretations. They are perceived as less limiting than reality because they focus on a narrow band of interactions and, within that range of focus, key restrictions have been removed.
For example, in Grand Theft Auto III, I can’t enroll in cooking classes, lie down on the beach, get a tattoo of a manatee or a thousand other things. But I can shoot someone with limited repercussions or steal any car I want and tool around town on the wrong side of the street until I crash and pop out, free from injury.
The thousands of things I can’t do are out of the scope of the game — as long as I don’t expect to be able to do them, they aren’t acknowledged as limitations.
Impulse only disappoints in a game when the game sets the expectation of being able to do something, only to prevent it from being done.
For example, in a game where boxes and crates can be destroyed, finding two crates blocking a doorway that cannot be destroyed disappoints the player’s impulse to find out what’s through the doorway. But if the door was never there in the first place, the player would never wonder what was on the other side of the wall.
Impulse also covers the dimension of decoration. A game that allows for decoration, such as The Sims, allows players to redecorate as the whim strikes them. Blue wallpaper today, red stripes tomorrow. This sense of capricious personalization is not limited to virtual dollhouses; it frequently turns up in the form of avatar builders that let the player change or evolve their in-game appearance.
Impulsive choice is a powerful aspect of games that is becoming increasingly relevant as games are able to model the real world more and more accurately. As games become deeper and more realistic, players will be enabled to indulge a wider range of impulses without risk of consequences.
Influence in Games. Games can be thought of as systems and the player should be considered part of that system. Often, the player is represented literally, through an avatar, but other times the player acts more like a god, influencing the game world from above with no physical representation within it. In either case, it’s a fundamental rule of game design that the game acknowledge the influence of the player. Influence can vary from actions causing reactions all the way to actions causing permanent reconstruction of the game world.
Persistent influence has evolved from early examples like Pac-Man, where the player gradually cleared the board of dots, to today where, in many modern shooters, the players can literally tear down the environments around them.
Modern RPGs, such as the Elder Scrolls series, strive to go even further and create “living” worlds where decisions follow the player through the game. Taken to this extreme, influence seems to be in opposition to the goal of impulse; persistence means players can’t act impulsively and without consequence.
But there is a benefit to actions having lasting effects; as decisions carry greater weight, the fantasy becomes more immersive. The fictional world feels more real.
Influence enables one type of fun at the expense of another.
God games take the most extreme approach, and embrace influence as more than just a source of realism: as a source of entertainment in itself. The player is no longer a simple actor who must deal with the consequences of his decisions. The player is a god, free to decide the lasting fate of others.
In games like Civilization, Black & White, or SimCity, the player has complete freedom to steer the fate of a society without fear of direct consequence.
Sure, there are explicit objectives to these games, but for many, they take a secondary role to the freedom of choice and influence. As a child, I can still remember discovering I was in the minority of my peers in that I played SimCity primarily to build cities and not destroy them.
Morality in games. Up until recently, games paid very little attention to morality. Conventions like killing enemies by the thousands, invading NPCs’ homes without thought and destroying furniture in the search for cash and power-ups are evidence of this legacy.
But as video games have become richer experiences and greater depth has been instilled into their worlds, they have come much closer to modeling our real
world. As the resemblance gets closer, it becomes easier to project the morals of our real world onto the game world.
Many modern games have embraced this convergence, introducing simple morality or karma systems into gameplay. In these systems, certain actions increase
karma, others decrease it, and the result is the player is labeled as either “good” or “evil”. More often than not, the karma system is also tied to the
unlocking of features, and the choice runs the risk of becoming more tactical than moral.
For a decision to be truly moral, the tactical results of the two options should be difficult to compare. For example, “evil” provides wealth, while “good ” provides reputation, and translating between the two is an inexact science.
Mass Effect 2 does a good job of isolating morality in choice by building morally ambiguous scenarios and then asking the player to arbitrate. The dilemmas involve significant story investment yet carry little actual gameplay relevance (at least that the player is able to predict while making the choices).
In a different example, Modern Warfare 2 has a controversial airport massacre scene, “No Russian”, where the user is asked to fire into a crowd of innocents. Whether the player chose to contribute or simply fire into the air makes no real difference to the progress of the game, but probably leaves a lasting impression in the mind of the player nonetheless.
Morality is not limited to realistic video games. A game need only evoke parallels to real-world moral choices to be effective. Brenda Brathwaite’s widely cited experimental board game Train was able to pose moral tension through simple toy trains and wooden pawns.
The objective of the game was to cram as many pawns into your boxcar as possible and move it to the end of the track. The moral difficulties arose from the aesthetic elements, which not-so-subtly invited players to imagine themselves as German officers tasked with transporting people to concentration camps.
Because morals are inherently personal, it’s advisable to approach them objectively. Rather than force subjective “good” and “evil” labels on players, provide opportunities to draw parallels to real-world moral dilemmas (for example to sacrifice an individual for the good of many) and then give your players the freedom to choose without persuasion. If the moral choice is too clearly one-sided, tactical incentives could be added to “balance” the choice and encourage players to weigh morals as part of a larger equation.
Conclusion Individuals are daily faced with conflicting demands. Selfish demands to acquire resources and leave a lasting legacy and moral demands to respect others.
This balancing act of constant compromise rarely gives individuals the opportunity to indulge either side to satisfaction. Games offer a virtual environment where players have the opportunity to play with power, influence and responsibility in a context where they have the freedom to explore choices reality does not afford.
For this vicarious experience to be effective, the game environment must be able to accurately model the real-world choices. In non-games, where modeling an entire world is probably not feasible, the focus will most likely need to be narrow and explicitly designed.
We’re all familiar with the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Not only is it a familiar phrase but, unless you’ve grown up with the world’s most protective parents, you’ve probably experienced both ends of the spectrum a few times yourself.
Literally, competition describes a situation involving two or more parties, the outcome of which results in a winner and a loser. And as the initial quote implies, competitions tend to be emotional, so much so that you might be inclined to ask why competition wasn’t included back in the emotion section. There ’s certainly ample reason to address it there; I’ve personally seen grown adults do some very emotional and inappropriate things for no reason other than competition.
Yet I think there is a distinction that makes it wise to address competition separately. Without competition, the emotions of games are largely vicarious: the player feels empathy for a protagonist. With competition, the protagonist is the self and the empathy is direct.
In a way, competition is a vehicle for emotion (particularly drama). Once competition enters the picture, many people can’t seem to emotionally separate reality and fiction; we project ourselves into the game so completely that there is no longer an emotional distance between participant and game.
And this is what makes competition so powerful. Competition is raw emotion. Anticipation, Anxiety, Fear, and Elation all come bursting out uncontrolled, an emotional rollercoaster that is as exciting as it is unpredictable.
Forms of Competition
Anything that can be measured can be competitive but once one gets down to categorizing, competition seems to fit into seven broad dimensions:Physical skill. Competitions of strength, speed and accuracy. Includes sports like baseball or surfing, and reaction-based video games like Pong or Call of Duty.
Creative skill. Competitions of creativity, such as painting, dancing, cooking, directing, writing, etc. The goal is to innovate and please the sensibilities of a group of judges.
Mental tactics. A broad category that includes anything strategic — that involves reading and predicting the behaviors of a system (including the influences of other players), from Civilization to chess to the play-calling of American football.
Diplomacy. A form of strategy that involves reading and predicting the behaviors of potential allies and acting with the intent of influencing opinions. Often called politics, or popularity, and includes contests from elections to hierarchies to multi-sided war games.
Knowledge. The accumulation and mastery of rules or facts, from highly formalized games like bridge, to straightforward trivia contests. Can also act as an alternate approach to mental tactics — if the rules of a system can not be deduced, ptimal strategies can be observed and memorized.
Time. Competitions of persistence or patience, measured by time and participation. Includes contests of participation such as a radio show call-in, an online social “mafia” game, or a staring contest.
Luck. Anything truly random, including (in many aspects) dice games, card games, sports, gambling, etc. Yet, given structured analysis, statistical odds become predictable and, over multiple trials, luck games will evolve into contests of statistical knowledge.
In many cases, a competition takes the form of some combination of the above seven forms. For example, the game show Wheel of Fortune requires both knowledge and luck, while a Madden football game requires physical skill, mental tactics and knowledge of the opposing team, and StarCraft involves at least a little bit of almost all of the categories (the exception being creativity).
In a true competition, success is measured relative to the performance of the other players. This means that if one player succeeds, another necessarily fails (the metaphorical sum total of their success being zero).
A competition in which everybody wins is not a zero-sum competition. Although if one player is recognized as winning more than the others, the competition could be perceived as being zero-sum (in this case, the performance of the theoretical average player would count as zero). A college course that grades on a strict curve is an example of a zero-sum competition.
The distribution of winners and losers does not need to be symmetrical across the full set of participants to count as zero-sum. For example, in Monopoly, only one player wins while all the others lose, and in credit card roulette, only one player loses while all the others win.
In some competitive environments, the zero-sum comparison may not be explicitly measurable by the community at large. For example, imagine a community of players ranked according to performance. Participants are only shown a leaderboard of the top 10 players. In a large community, where the bottom end of the range is essentially unknown, many ranks lack context. (Is 4,557 a good rank?)
Yet it’s naïve to assume that just because the zero-sum is not clearly expressed, it doesn’t exist. Players will fill in the blanks by estimating their success, and often not accurately. Imagine in this community there is only one measure of success: being on the leaderboard or off the leaderboard. If the actual size of the community is 10,000 players and only 10 players appear on the leaderboard, there is a strong implication to 9990 of the players that they are losers.
The takeaway is players have a tendency to seek out the zero-sum, whether you make it explicit or not.
A competition which is not zero-sum is not truly a competition against other players but actually a competition against a system. Although players’ progress may be compared, they are measured against universal thresholds and not relatively.
An example is a college course that does not grade on a curve. The advantage of non zero-sum is that it does not require losers. A possible disadvantage is that some of the thrill might be removed from winning if it is possible for everyone to win.
Not all competitions are “fair” — meaning not all competitors start the competition with an equal opportunity to win. But games, as a form of entertainment, almost always strive to be fair, meaning all players start with a roughly equal opportunity of victory. The only unfairness in games should be the player’s innate natural ability (i.e. physical skill, mental talent, etc).
An alternate means of breaking fairness that has been turning up lately, is buying an advantage. While this can be profitable for the game’s maker, it is potentially dangerous to the integrity of the game if it weakens the significance of the other forms of competition (tactics, skill, etc).
The profitability of most social games is based on buying advantages. In most cases, money seems to be most acceptable as a replacement for time and this may not be unusual; in a world of hourly wages, we are already conditioned to perceive time and money as analogous.
Almost everybody likes to win and very few enjoy losing. The very reason that competition is so appealing — the thrill of victory — creates an equal opportunity for being unappealing — the shame of defeat.
Some social games have managed to create the illusion of a zero-sum situation in what is actually an “everyone wins” situation. Bluntly, this means hiding failures by “paying off” defeats from the game system itself. For example, if this technique was used in Monopoly, the bank would help players by paying the majority of their debt every time they landed on a rival’s property.
One consequence of this technique is an inflating game economy, another is a game that will never end (the latter being desirable in a social game).
Competition in practice
Probably more than any other topic covered in this series, competition is the aspect of fun most strongly associated with games. If there is one thing competition does to a non-game activity, it’s make it feel like a game.
It’s also incredibly easy to accomplish — simply measuring a behavior and comparing it between participants implies a competition — so it may be perceived as an easy gamification win. But as I mentioned at the start of this discussion, competition can be highly emotional and therefore cause stress.
It’s one thing to include competition as an expected part of a game, it’s entirely something else to have competition appear in a non-competitive activity, such as running errands, or donating your time.
For better or worse, competition changes the entire context of a behavior or activity and this change should not be taken lightly.
[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.
Identity in Games
Role-playing. Role-play is easy to identify in games. Any game with a protagonist involves the potential for role-play to some degree. The more-developed the backstory and personality, the greater the role-playing opportunities. For example, Mario is a fairly flat character with limited background for context, so the amount of role-playing is limited. Batman is a character with a detailed personality and rich backstory and provides a greater opportunity for role-play.
Yet while known characters like Batman have the benefit of detail and depth they run the risk of narrowed appeal (what if I don’t like the Batman character?) Games like Fable and Mass Effect take the approach of setting up a detailed backstory but leave the specifics of personality wide open, sacrificing possible depth for breadth of appeal and potential replay — e.g. next time I’ll try it as a jerk.
While there is a lot of overlap between concept of identity and the concept of choice (the opportunity, in games, to make decisions we normally wouldn’t) I think the distinction is: we role-play for the opportunity to feel what it is like to have a different identity; in a way, to let the adopted identity dictate our choices. When I, as Batman, have the Joker at my mercy, I let him live because that is what my adopted persona, Batman, would do.
In other words, if I’m playing the game doing everything I would do, I’m exercising my choice, if I’m playing the game doing everything my character would do, I’m role-playing.
In interactive online multiplayer games, the distinction between “real” persona and “imaginary” persona can become blurred. If there are people who know you only by a game persona and treat it with complete seriousness, that persona is arguably just as “real” as any other, and I believe this sense of validation constitutes a very powerful draw to engage in a virtual contxt.
Social Purpose. Any game involving teamwork involves some amount of social purpose. Everyone on the team is working together for a common goal. Everyone provides value to the team and typically it is in the best interests of the team to look out for its members.
In the context of a soccer team, the value provided may be skill in shooting, passing or defending. In a less defined context, such as that of a schoolyard clique, the value provided is that ineffable attribute known as “cool”. By being cool, the individual helps to make the group cool.
In some games, everyone on a team has basically the same role. An example might be a pickup game of Counter-Strike, and in such a game it’s not unusual for teamwork to be limited to simply sharing a common foe. In these cases value is measured along the same terms for all players (e.g. kills) and the “teamwork ” is in constant danger of degrading into a competition between teammates to demonstrate the most skill.
In other games, players have different roles with different available abilities (such as classes) and working together involves strategic cooperation. World ofWarcraft raids, for example, can be highly organized with different players absorbing damage, dealing damage, casting modifiers, crowd-controlling and healing.
The role a player chooses not only gives them value in the eyes of the group, but it can also say something about who they are. Are they a player who seeks glory, attention, authority, or gratitude? In many ways, the value you choose to provide sets the basis of your social identity — the tone of your interactions with the rest of the group (e.g. I’m a healer, I take care of other people).
Role-playing. In order for players to role-play, they must be given the means to express identity. How can identity be expressed? Profiles are a great place to start — pictures, interests, anything that allows for self-expression — but even more important than stating an identity, is proving it. Players need points of interaction. They need polarizing scenarios. Disagreements, when handled civilly, can be a good thing; they let players take a personal stance and express an aspect of their identity.
Commemorating choices. In virtual environments, just like reality, people desire means of demonstrating or expressing their identity. In video games with avatars, gear worn and abilities wielded tell a story of choices made that other players will be able to read.
Non-game environments are no different and there is value in commemorating choices in a way that can be “read” by other members of the community. Badges and trophies can fulfill this need, but only if there is value in the underlying choices and behaviors. There is no point in commemorating choices that users don’t recognize as relevant.
Social Purpose. If role-playing is anchored in opportunities to express identity, social purpose is anchored in opportunities to prove worth. This means interdependencies between community members are needed. A game like FrontierVille uses simple forced ‘gifting loops’ to artificially create this effect and it seems to work, at least with a particular audience.
The reason that this mechanic might feel forced and spammy to those outside of the target audience is its lack of specificity. In FrontierVille, anybody with a Facebook account and a free moment of attention can fulfill a need for hand-drills or paint buckets. More sophisticated audiences will demand that cooperative skill measure more exclusive talents.
What’s important is identifying what your audience values; if you’re a Facebook user, it’s attention, if you’re a Call of Duty player, it’s kills, and if you’re a Question and Answer forum user, it’s accurate, detailed answers.
Commemorating Value. In the real world, things like driving an expensive car or wearing expensive clothes are explicit expressions of success and, for many of those who are successful, a balance is struck between modesty and tasteless gloating. In a virtual community, such as a game, the concern for modesty is largely deferred to the system itself; if displaying status is the default, it’s less likely to carry a “gloating” stigma. Think of a military officer with a host of badges on his jacket; within the context of the military, such a representative display of status is not immodest.
Aren’t badges kind of simplistic and out of context?
Possibly, and wherever there is an opportunity, indicators of identity and value should be integrated into the pre-existing context of your game or site. Yet that said, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a lack of subtlety, just as long as the choice or value being expressed is meaningful.
In my opening article, I arrived at Story as a topic by combining Narrative and Fantasy, which I defined as the events and setting of a story. Although these topics are typically lumped together, each has something unique to contribute to the conversation so I’ll address them separately. First, we’ll cover Story as narrative.
In games, there is a strong tendency to think of story as the non-interactive part of the experience, something that exists in cutscenes and dialog. And this makes a certain kind of sense; story is traditionally a passive experience, books and movies are experienced with no influence over the outcome.
Yet, in other ways, this doesn’t make sense. Story doesn’t have to be passive. Oral stories, especially those which are improvised, can be influenced by suggestions from the audience and the theatrical concept of improv is based entirely on the idea of an interactive story.
There is a fascinating card game called Once Upon a Time in which players compete to incorporate topics, drawn from cards, into a collectively-told improvised story.
If you play Once Upon a Time, one thing you’ll notice is that the stories it tells are meandering; they don’t have a coherent structure and there is no pacing or logical progression from beginning to end. And this, I believe, is the biggest break in expectations between the traditional passive form of movie/book narrative and interactive improvisational/game narrative.
Passive Narrative vs. Interactive Narrative
The most satisfying narratives are carefully crafted. They have clearly defined character arcs, tantalizing mysteries, dramatic shifts and a plotted progression of emotional highs and lows. Robert McKee’s highly regarded screenwriting guide Story outlines the entire process in detail.Yet, there’s one difficulty for a game-developer looking to use his model: his prescriptions are entirely impossible in an interactive environment.
Interactive stories between a player and a system inevitably meander, slave to the free will of the player, who might spend entirely too long on a puzzle or miss it altogether, refuse to open a particular door or find a certain battle entirely too easy or too challenging. As a basic tenant, the less linear the gameplay, the less control you, as the designer, will have over the story.
The advantages of a passive narrative are optimized levels of expectation and emotion, while the advantages of an interactive narrative are increased choice and personalization. Most games likely involve some blend of the two and we’ve already talked previously about the advantages of choice and identity. Therefore the focus of this discussion will be the passive side of narrative.
I just described the value of passive narrative as expectation and emotion and I’ll cover both of these in detail.
Expectation. When I mention expectation, I’m talking about a few things, drawn from both McKee and my own observations. Stories tend to engage the audience ’s expectations by including some or all of the following:
•Mystery / Suspense
Unanswered Questions or Cliffhangers
Pressing the viewer to ask: What would I do? How would I solve this?
These three things all create expectation: the first two combine to ask, what will happen next? The last asks, will my solution or philosophy be validated? Does the author agree with me?
Emotion. The other advantage of the passive narrative is emotion. In a previous article, I already covered emotions, as experienced by the player, but here we’ll acknowledge emotions as observed by the player.
While people enjoy experiencing emotion in a safe, controlled environment, direct emotions can still be stressful. A further step back from the direct emotions of games are the vicarious emotions of stories. With stories, an additional level of removal has been added — the viewer experiences emotion either through the trials and victories of a protagonist or through the morals of society condemning an antagonist (and occasionally both at the same time, as in
the case of a movie like Bad Lieutenant).
Passive Narrative in Games
I think there may be two routes to obtaining the benefits of a passive narrative:
Scripted events. This means keeping the story on a constructed path and this is the method more than 99 percent of stories in games take. It doesn’t necessarily mean ‘linear’ but if it isn’t linear, it is going to be a lot of work as the effort-to-gameplay ratio of branching stories quickly becomes impractical.
Quantic Dream’s Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit represents an extreme example of scripted linearity for the sake of passive narrative. The game even sold itself as interactive movie, with “begin new movie” on the main menu and a rewind button instead of “replay”.
Many games use a linear model but do their best to create the illusion of freedom by giving the player free-reign to roam and explore between story sections, such as the overworld between dungeons in the Zelda series. Open exploration, optional stand-alone events, and sidequests contribute to a sense of choice without interfering with the overarching balanced beats of a linear story.
Emergent events. This is the idea of story created by social interaction. Given enough players and opportunities for drama, social constructs begin to emerge on their own and generate suspense, intrigue, deeper intent and the sense of a collective story as players work together, predicting and responding to the behavior of others.
The story isn’t so much written as it is experienced.
The purest examples of emergent story, such as Travian or Diplomacy, are well-crafted designs that contain the germ of suspense, reversal and morality in their mechanics. In the case of MMOs, designers have the opportunity to create emergent story by giving the occasional push to create tension and challenge communities along unexpected lines.
Passive Narrative in practice. Integrating passive narrative into a non-game experience really isn’t any different than integrating passive narrative into a game. This is because games aren’t a natural environment for a passive narrative any more than a website or application. Until recently passive stories weren’t found in games at all; card games, board games and sports don’t have passive stories. It wasn’t until the arrival of role-playing games, followed by text adventures and simple cutscenes like the intermissions in Ms. Pac-Man, that passive narrative was introduced to gameplay.
There are two approaches to the task of adding a passive narrative to an unrelated activity, such as a game, website or activity. The first is to start with a story and layer on the context. The second is to start with the context and layer on a story.
The world of advertising is already rather adept at both. An example of the first case would be a movie where the protagonist spends a scene holding a can of Coke. An example of the second case would be a DeBeers commercial with a montage of a couple falling in love and getting engaged. It might be a stretch to call either of these examples gamification, but it seems a valuable lesson, regardless of whether games invented the concept of story or not.
The other aspect of Story, after Narrative, is Fantasy. While the word “fantasy” is often used to describe a specific genre of fiction, in the context of stories, I think it’s more appropriate to understand the word as describing the world the narrative takes place in — the locations, cultures, customs, natural phenomena and technologies. In particular, where they are different from those in the world experienced by the audience on a daily basis. In other words:
Fantasy describes the differences of a world and its inhabitants from our own.
The fantasy genre simply refers to this concept taken to its extreme — entire worlds which are very different from our own.
The success or strength of a fantasy (not necessarily appeal) is typically measured by its ability to adhere to its own internal reality, the rules the world must abide by. The more the introduced elements influence the culture, and the more the culture influences the characters, the more consistent and “legitimate” the fictional world will feel. A stronger fantasy does not so much describe the scope of the fantasy as the thoughtfulness put into its consistency.
If you’ll bear with me, we’ll use the ’80s sitcom Alf as an example. In Alf, the fantasy is that a sarcastic, cat-loving, extroverted alien has crash- landed in a suburban family’s garage. That’s about it; the rest of the series is set in reality. The strength of the fantasy lies in the show’s ability stick to the premise. If, from the beginning, Alf was able to interact with the outside world, got a job and found a human wife, the fantasy would lack consistency (although it possibly might have been a more interesting show).
This is not to say that an existing fantasy can’t evolve, it just needs a believable, internally consistent explanation for the change to its rules.
The Appeal of Fantasy
The concept of escapism proposes that the goal of fantasy is to distract the audience from the nuisances of real life; the fictional world provides an alternate reality that is more appealing. This implies that the more immersive the fantasy world, the greater the potential pleasure. I don’t see any faults with this reasoning, but I’m not sure it explains everything, for example, why the same fantasy can get boring.
Studies have shown that humans fear an unknown outcome more than a known bad result, yet they have also shown humans crave new experiences. Perhaps fantasy offers an opportunity to experience novelty without any of the risk. An appeal similar to the appeal of visiting a foreign nation, meeting exotic people, and seeing strange new things, all without the danger of getting lost, deceived or rejected.
Fantasy in Practice
Fantasy is a consideration when creating the setting of an experience. The more the experience can be made to resemble something it isn’t, the more opportunities for creating fantasy and the more likely the user will be able to imagine they are somewhere else, somewhere they have never been.
For example, crafting a web experience to feel like a deep-jungle archeology expedition (pushing through leaves to navigate, text written on stone tablets from an ancient ruin, appropriate jungle sound effects, etc.) could introduce features under the fantasy of uncovering and experimenting with unexpected mystical artifacts.
Possibly more than any other aspect of games, fantasy represents a risk of trivializing the experience it’s meant to enhance. By implying the activity needs to be hidden or changed, there is a possible implication that the activity itself lacks value.
Should fantasy be seriously considered for Gamification purposes, it needs to be thoughtfully integrated and complimentary to the primary experience in tone and objective. For example, the jungle theme given above makes more sense in the context of an activity that already involves concepts like searching or deciphering and less sense if the activity involves building or recording.