The Doors to the Fortress


I started on this quest to discover all I could from the world of Gamification because I like goals. I like deadlines. The “Gammify Challenge” (re-branded recently as “The Loyalty Games”) will be held over 3 rounds this summer, and provided me with that initial goal.

A challenge I could set my path towards. Something I could tangibly see and imagine.

A white fortress.

As I step out of the maze, I see the colourful flags strung between the windows of the towers and across the arch in front of two heavy wooden doors. I walk towards them, the wolf padding along beside me close at my heels, but as I draw nearer I realise that I am both woefully unprepared and also that the goal has changed.

Having travelled the long and winding path to get here I find some other adventure calling me instead.

Braid (2008) platform and puzzle video game

Braid (2008) platform and puzzle video game

That’s the difference between a goal and an adventure, between wanting to reach the end and wishing that the you can just keep going because you’re having too much fun.

I discovered this as I imagined each of stories behind a hero’s quest. The spectrum extrinsic and intrinsic motivations behind each of those different story-lines could have been the start of a wholly different journey, but I also realised that they could be layered together into the same person.

What starts out as a journey motivated by one kind of motivation can develop and change into another.

Daniel Pink has made famous the research findings of how quickly we can dampen down intrinsic enjoyment and motivation for an activity by introducing rewards. But the movement along this spectrum also says to me that there is fluidity in all of us that can also extend the other way. That what starts as an extrinsically driven behaviour can also become intrinsic.

I learnt from running the gauntlet of the A to Z of Gamification that there’s a whole lot more to motivating, engaging and inspiring people to do ‘anything’. Whether that’s to play a game, use your product or even perhaps in motivating people towards the ultimate quest – saving the world.

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The ground rumbles, the burping of some giant beast start out low and deep and builds to a roar. I jump back as the cracking of the grass and earth pulls apart the ground in front of the fortress. Dust and earth crumbles in on itself until the dirt and fog settles on a set of sunken steps. It leads down into the dark, past more dimly lit steps until I can see the flickering lights of a tunnel disappearing around a corner.

I glance up at the doors of the fortress. They look even more solid and tall against the gaping hole in the earth. It will always be there, a simple goal, a competition to win or lose, but the glowing light below beckons me. It leads me down another path, a diverting question, a curious new quest.

Quest Accepted: How do you motivate people to take on the mantle of changing the world for the better? Beyond it being the ‘right thing’ or a worthy quest, is saving the world, fun?

The Puzzle of People


I’ve answered the gargoyle’s challenge. The ball of string is light, a single strand stretched taut behind me as it winds its way down the long corridor I emerged from. The ball will fall apart with just a few more steps. The end of another journey.

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This is my second year participating in the April A to Z challenge, a post almost every day in April following the letters of the alphabet. My first year led me eventually on to discover gamification. So in 2014, I followed up with charting the things I’ve learnt over this last year with my A to Z on Gamification.

The one question I realise I haven’t answered yet, is why gamification at all?

I enjoy games, yes, but I’ve never been interested in game design before. It’s only through the lens of what it can bring to the goals and motivations in real life, through the lens of gamification does it begin to fascinate me.

The Puzzle of People

I’ve always put down my confusion around the ins and outs of people, as a lack of empathy. I admit I don’t naturally feel a connection that comes from ‘affective empathy’. But I do though care a lot about understanding what makes people tick.

People have always seemed like an elegant endless kind of puzzle you might try to solve.

Image Source: Daniel Research Group, Cornell University

As I think back to my earliest memories, I wonder if this feeling of distanced puzzlement has come from standing at the edges of too many playgrounds as a kid.

Why was Suzie best-friends with Anne, but only second best-friends with Mel, which meant she wasn’t allowed to speak to Toby. These little dramas fill my most vivid childhood memories with subtle surprises that reveal the intricacies that even a school playtime can hold.

Take the classic break-time game of many names; “Tag”, “It”, “Chase”. One person chases around the other kids till the caught become ‘it’ and now its their turn to chase you down. The same game mechanic (the chasing) and one rule (catch anyone to switch roles). Except, I remember vividly for one occasion.

On a warm spring day when the huddle of kids in the playground decide to play ‘kiss chase’.

There was a strange moment in this ‘kiss chase’, when I realised that no one was actually trying to chase me. I tested my hunch, at first, by standing still and watching the tide of kids running in every direction except towards me. Feeling bold, I also tried running straight towards the chaser thereby creating a strange inverted parallel game that confused everyone.

In the end, I remember just standing, watching and puzzled at the sudden change to the game-rules I thought I understood. I watched the zigzagging of girls and boys dashing between the trees and benches suddenly following an unspoken set of rules. Who they chose to chase and who they wanted to be caught by.

An invisible web of the hopes and rejections from a dozen childhood crushes played out across our concrete playground,

I felt as if I had solved something that day. A jumbled set of pieces of a puzzle moving around that suddenly came into sight. Suzie, Anne, Toby, what they wanted, what they were afraid of and how all of it got twisted up and changed into the faces they showed each other were laid bare in a game.

I think I believed that there would be more games like this. More ways of seeing the world that would mean one day that the puzzle of people would somehow all be revealed.

I guess I’m still looking.

I look at the field of gamification and wonder if it offers something like that moment. That if I look through the lens of another set of games there might be a way to help solve the puzzle of people, this time playing out on an even bigger playground.

Memory of a Fortress


Standing now at the edge of my word cloud I look down into Webland and from here I spot the unmistakeable four towers of the White Fortress looming atop a mountain.

A goal reappeared.

I hold the staff tight in my two clammy hands, the creases and nooks of my journey in its skin feeling comforting as I hold it. I turn and walk back to centre of the cloud grabbing my blogging backpack that lies at the wolf’s feet. He looks up at me, a questioning tilt in its head.

Then I turn, running in long great strides. I feel the air beneath me before I can be afraid. As I leap from the cloud I see out of the corner of my eye, a blur of a shape as the wolf leaps with me.

Gammify 2014 Gamificaiton World Championships

Competition Round 1: 12-July-2014, Round 2: 26-July-2014,
Finals: 9-August-2014