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Gamification Dynamics: Growth And Emotion

November 16, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

[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

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.

Children

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.

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:

  • learning
  • order
  • challenges overcome
  • connections

A Realization

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?

Bartle

Meyers-Briggs simplification

Beatle

Growth preferences

Explorers

Thinking Introverts

George

seek questions and learning

Achievers

Feeling Introverts

Paul

seek order, balance and validation

Killers

Thinking Extroverts

John

seek competition and challenges

Socializers

Feeling Extroverts

Ringo

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.


Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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