Human-Focused Design: The Better Term for Gamification

This is an excerpt from the second part of the introduction of Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and LeaderboardsBuy a copy here or listen on Audible.

Why Gamification?

Gamification, or the act of making something game-like, is certainly not something new. Throughout history, humans have tried to make existing tasks more intriguing, motivating, and even “fun.” When a small group of people casually decide to compete against each other in hunting and gathering, or simply start keeping score of their activities and comparing it to their past records, they are adopting principles that are prevalent in modern games to make tasks more engaging.

One of the earlier works done on adapting gameplay practices within the workplace can be traced back to 1984, when Charles Coonradt explored the value of adding game-play elements at work through his book The Game of Work. 1

Coonradt addressed the question, “Why would people pay for the privilege of working harder at their chosen sport or recreational pursuit than they would work at a job where they were being paid?” He then boiled it down to five conclusions that led to hobbies being more preferable to work.


• Clearly defined goals
• Better scorekeeping and scorecards
• More frequent feedback
• A higher degree of personal choice of methods • Consistent coaching

As we dive deeper into our journey together, we will learn about how these factors boil down to specific motivation Core Drives that can be intently designed for.

On the other hand, some early forms of marketing gamification can also be seen in the form of (regrettably) “shoot the duck” banner ads on websites, where an image ad tempts users to click on it by displaying a duck flying around. These tactics have probably tricked many people, myself included, into clicking on them once or twice upon seeing them. Later on, eCommerce sites like eBay and all adapted sound gamification principles to become hugely popular examples of how game mechanics and dynamics can really make a process fun and engaging (in later chapters, we will examine how both eBay and utilize great gamifica- tion design to make purchases exciting and urgent).

Of course, as “games” evolved throughout the centuries, the art of “making things game-like” naturally evolved too. Through the ad- vent of the Internet, Big Data, pluggable frameworks, and stronger graphics, our ability to design and implement better gamification experiences has drastically improved to the point where we can now bring sophisticated and subtle game-like experiences into every aspect of our lives.

In recent years, the term “gamification” became a buzzword because the gaming industry shifted from making simple games that only target young boys, to social and mobile games like Farmville and Angry Birds that also appeal to middle-aged executives as well as senior retirees alike.

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How Diablo II Changed My Life: An Introduction to Actionable Gamification

This is an excerpt from the introduction of Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and LeaderboardsBuy a copy here or listen on Audible.

How a Game changed my Life

On a seemingly regular morning in 2003, I woke up feeling different. I felt utterly unenthusiastic about the new day. There was nothing to look forward to – no demons to slay, no gears to perfect, no drops to loot and no Excel spreadsheets to strategize on. That was the first morning after I decided to quit Diablo II, a computer based role- play-game (RPG) developed by Blizzard Entertainment.

And I felt extremely empty.

Little did I know that I was going through one of the most treacher- ous effects stemming from black hat game design. Something I now call the “Sunk Cost Prison.”

But it was that morning, that I also had the most impactful epiphany in my life, something that propelled me from a slightly-above- average student, to go on to start my first business during my first year of college at UCLA; to become a guest lecturer at Stanford University by twenty-three, raise over $1 million a year later, and finally become an international keynote speaker and recognized consultant in the field of gamification by my late twenties.

More importantly, this deep revelation ensured that I would become passionate and excited about my work every single day since.

I am sharing this with you not to sound conceited (after all, you are already reading my book), but because I truly believe if anyone was to take what I have learned during this epiphany to heart, they would likely do even better in a shorter amount of time, without all the fumbling and stumbling I went through.


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Readalong: Reality is Broken, Chapter 2 – The Rise of the Happiness Engineers

This continues the Readalong by Erik van Mechelen of Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’ with insights from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework.

tl;dr Autotelic activity is the most intrinsically motivating, giving satisfying work, a hope of being successful, social connections, and meaning.

Summary of Chapter 2 – The Rise of the Happiness Engineers

In this chapter, McGonigal makes the case that autotelic activity could be re-engineered into reality. The reason self-chosen activity is good is because it works within Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow theory to product intrinsic rewards like satisfying work, the hope of being successful, social connections, and meaning.

By marrying the science of happiness with emotional evolution of the gaming industry, we can engineer happiness.

This futurist vision stands in large contrast to the current American Dream story, which largely makes people more unhappy.

Continue reading Readalong: Reality is Broken, Chapter 2 – The Rise of the Happiness Engineers

OP Book Insights: Ch 1, The Characters in the Story (Thinking, Fast and Slow)

As part of Octalysis Prime, Yu-kai provides OP Insights on important research and books in the field of, in this case, Behavior Economics. 
Author asks readers to look at a woman’s photo and states that the reader, without trying, immediately knows the woman is angry. Then he shows a math problem 17 x 24 and asks us to calculate it. He states that the first one is based on System 1 (we immediately know intuitively), and the second one is System 2 (we deliberately have to think about it). Our System 1 immediately knows it is a multiplication problem and that we could likely solve it. Our system 1 would also know what is probably too high or too low. But we wouldn’t know for sure if 568 is correct or not. We have to CHOOSE to engage our System 2 to start solving the problem.
System 1 and System 2 terminology come from psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West.
Intense focusing on a task can make people effectively blind to anything else. When we are focusing on a difficult task of tracking people wearing white shirts from black shirts, we miss a gorilla costume person walking in front of the screen. This is demonstrated in Chabris and Simons’ book The invisible gorilla and demonstrated by Netflix Brain Game.
The counting task and the instruction to ignore the other team causes this. 50% of the people don’t see it, and would not believe at all they would miss something so obvious.
When a lot of resources are allocated to system 2, our system 1 becomes less effective.
“We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.”
System 1 usually makes suggestions to System 2, and System 2 is in low effort mode and agrees to the intuition or impression. This then becomes belief.
When System 1 cannot solve and issue, System 2 then becomes highly engaged.
System 2 keeps up polite when angry, and focused when driving at night. System 1 makes way more decisions but usually System 2 has the final say if it bothers.
System 1 usually works quite well, and it cannot be turned off. It is working all the time.
Sometimes System 1 and 2 have a conflict, such as saying the text “right” is on the left. We may still identify those correctly, but we need to slow down to properly do it.
The famous Muller-Lyer illusion shows 2 lines, one with fins pointing outwards and one with find pointing inwards. If we have seen it, our system 2 knows as a fact that the lines are equal length, but our system 1 will continue to let us see that one line is longer than the other. We cannot unsee the longer line, but we have learned to mistrust it.
Sometimes there are cognitive illusions (instead of just visual). If a patient tells a doctor that every doctor in the past has screwed them over, but you are different. Run away from this patient, even though system 1 wants to help him. The strong sympathetic attraction to the patient is like the lines with fin – it is an illusion and our system 2 should learn to distrust it.
Yu-kai’a note: the patient actually effectively used CD5: Social Influence, CD7: Curiosity on this disease, CD3 for the doctor to see if he can solve the problem that no one else can, CD 4: Identity in the sense of “I am that uniquely good doctor that cares about patience” and even CD1: Calling, “it’s my life mission to cure people, especially those who are mistreated by others”. No wonder even doctors cannot resist this!
We cannot turn system 1 off, but it is impractical to always be vigilant of these cognitive illusions. The best we can do it recognize situations that these errors are more prone to happen, especially when stakes are high.
The reason why we name systems 1 & 2 as characters is because it is more memorable to the Brain than abstract academic terms. Character and personalities are more memorable.
Yu-kai notes: this is adding CD5 to create more relatedness with the concept.
Author gives some ways to use his concepts in everyday conversation at the end of each chapter, such as, “This is your System 1 talking. Slow down and let your System 2 take control.”
Yu-kai notes: While it is a bit geeky and only helpful among people who have this studied, this is a good example of CD3: Empowerment. The author immediately allows users to see how they can strategically USE these concepts in everyday conversations, perhaps sounding smarter and grasping the concepts better as a result.
To join an international group of professionals learning gamification and human-focused design, join Octalysis Prime.

Readalong for “Reality is Broken”: Chapter 1, What Exactly Is a Game?

tl;dr Embrace high stakes work and instead of telling yourself this isn’t a game, say this could be a game. 


McGonigal makes the point that gamers want to play games (and not “game” them) and uses the 4 traits of a game to establish some ground rules for the rest of her book.


Gaming is part of our lexicon. “Gaming the system” or “You’d better start playing the game” are part of everyday speech.

This statement leads McGonigal into a discussion of what a game is…a game has:

  1. goal players will work to achieve
  2. rules providing limitations
  3. feedback system giving player progress
  4. voluntary participation

“This definition may surprise you for what it lacks: interactivity, graphics, narrative, rewards, competition, virtual environments, or the idea of “winning” — all traits we often think of when it comes to games today. True, these are common features of many games, but they are not defining features.”

Continue reading Readalong for “Reality is Broken”: Chapter 1, What Exactly Is a Game?