Epic Wins & Epic Meaning in games unlock the secret to happiness


The E in my A to Z of Gamification series is for Epic!

Designed to be Epic

In games ‘Epic’, can often mean winning. The epic win is the is a hard won goal  or the triumph over other players in a tightly fought match. We reserve it for our most intense experiences of game-play, where we connect and focus within those moments so wholly, they last in our memories for years or even decades to come.

It can also mean finding and fulfilling a sense of self through the possibility of transformation. This is the epic meaning created by being engaged with a community or story that pushes us to see past our current circumstances and be part of a bigger narrative. Whether fictional or real, we are drawn to the hero’s journey and experiences that challenge us to transform the world and be transformed with it.

These uses of the term ‘epic’ in gaming culture reveals two common experiences in games that can help to keep us “in the zone” whilst playing.

Staying in Flow

This state of being, where we find our skills are matched perfectly to a worthy challenge in front of us is known as a concept called ‘Flow‘.  Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi from the field of positive psychology, it’s depicted in the top-right quadrant of the chart below. The segment of experience where challenge and skill are both high.

When a person has a lower level of skill for the challenges in front of them, experiencing a perfectly timed ‘epic win; means the game has stopped them dropping into a state of anxiety and inspired them to keep playing.

As Jane McGonigal explains. “With each epic win, our possibility space expands—dramatically….They make us curious about what more we can do—and as a result, we are more likely to take positive action again in the future.
Epic wins help turn a one-off effort into passionate long-term participation.”

 Reality is Broken

‘Epic meaning’, however, does a slightly different job. It kicks the people who are sitting too comfortably in the segment of high skills, but are coasting along with too many low level challenges. It might be relaxing in the short term, but stay here too long and a person’s skills will atrophy and their attention sink into boredom.

To unlock true life-long happiness, Csikszentmihalyi states in Flow theory it implies the need for growth. “When one is in a flow state, he or she is working to master the activity at hand. To maintain that flow state, one must seek increasingly greater challenges. Attempting these new, difficult challenges stretches one’s skills.”

“Flow” (2005), in Elliot, A., Handbook of Competence and Motivation

People in this segment need a reason to leave their comfort zone where they are always in control. A well-timed dose of ‘epic meaning’ sets the stage to be a part of something greater than ourselves or as a chance to overcome adversity. Leading people to explore and take on those greater challenges.

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