Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 8 – Leveling Up in Life

This continues the Readalong by Erik van Mechelen of Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’ with insights from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework. For in-depth discussions of this book and others, join Octalysis Prime.

tl;dr Games that add value to life are worth creating.


In this chapter, McGonigal introduces us to games that accompany real life activities, explaining how their inclusion of intrinsic motivation alleviates boredom (JetSetter), stems anxiety (Day in the Clouds), makes us run harder (Nike+), and hang out with friends more in new places (Foursquare).

It is a great survey of the underlying studies and behavioral psychology.


The examples in this chapter won’t surprise anyone reading in 2017, but I was drawn into a reflection on Foursquare, a popular app that is no longer high on the App Store charts.

McGonigal rightly points out that instead of instead of a game that rewards you for what you’re already doing, like Nike+, Foursquare “it’s a game that rewards you for doing new things, and making a better effort to be social.”

Designers will notice a problem here, however. Once I ‘rediscover’ (if I ever forgot) that hanging out with friends is a fun and healthy activity, I can stop using the app. If I take this undesired action (for Foursquare), all I lose is a digital ‘Mayorship’, which, unless you are someone who gets really attached to things that don’t exist, is easy to give let go.

Creating Endgames is one of the most challenging elements of behavior design in any experience.

What do you think?

What games are adding value to your life?

Let me know in the comments or on Octalysis Prime‘s community (paywall).

Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 7 – The Benefits of Alternate Realities

This continues the Readalong by Erik van Mechelen of Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’ with insights from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework. For in-depth discussions of this book and others, join Octalysis Prime.

tl;dr Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) [not to be confused with Augmented Reality AR], are games designed to be played in the real world, which make difficult activities more rewarding, build up new real-world communities, and help us adopt the daily habits of the world’s happiest people in our own everyday lives.


McGonigal moves into the promising area of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), with great examples like Chore Wars, Quest to Learn, and SuperBetter, which helped her recover from a traumatic brain injury.

Different to standard games, ARGs offer the opportunity to make real differences in the real world, in real lives.


McGonigal’s opening anecdote made me smile:

And it just so happens that ridding our real-world kingdom of toilet stains is worth more experience points, or XP, than any other chore in the Land of the 41st-Floor Ninjas.

McGonigal once again shows how immersed she has been in testing and creating all sorts of games throughout her life.

McGonigal moves into the depths of Chore Wars with anecdotes from other users around the world. Basically, Chore Wars brings out competitive spirit and collaboration with a steady does of accomplishment.

What’s more, Chore Wars is “a game that you win even if you lose. Kiyash has the satisfaction of being the best ninja on the forty-first floor, and I have the pleasure of doing fewer chores than my husband–at least until my competitive spirit kicks back in. Not to mention, it’s more enjoyable to be partners in crime when it comes to housework, instead of nagging each other about chores.

Fix #7: Wholehearted Participation

Compared with games, reality is hard to get into. Games motivate us to participate more fully in whatever we’re doing.

McGonigal reminds us that “to participate wholeheartedly in something means to be self-motivated and self-directed, intensely interested and genuinely enthusiastic. 

  • If we’re forced to do something, or if we do it halfheartedly, we’re not really participating.
  • If we don’t care how it all turns out, we’re not really participating.
  • If we’re passively waiting it out, we’re not really participating.

Along with other ARG designers one day on Twitter, McGonigal came upon another definition capturing the spirit of ARGs: alternate realities are the antiescapist game.

This is a cool way to think of them. Instead of retreating to games, we are bringing the best of design and experience design and motivation and mechanics to real-world situations.

Quest to Learn is the next big example, which combines various game mechanics and techniques and overall design into the classroom. This isn’t Khan Academy or Montesorri, but some mix of characteristics that make learning engaging for students with the right amount of challenge, encouraging them through missions, quests, and collaborative exploration and problem-solving.

I might Katie Salen, author of Rules of Play and researcher of how kids learn by playing games, at a discussion at Target in 2012. She led the Quest to Learn curriculum design.

Quest to Learn, in effect, is the precursor to ClassDojo and other gameful design (including digital systems) in the classroom.

SuperBetter was the game McGonigal designed to help herself battle and defeat a traumatic brain injury.

Either I’m going to kill myself or I’m going to turn this into a game.

SuperBetter’s story is well-known, but it centers on turning recovery into a multiplayer experience in 5 steps:

  1. Create your SuperBetter secret identity
  2. Recruit your allies
  3. Find the bad guys
  4. Identify your power-ups
  5. Create your superhero to-do list

By baking cookies for neighbors and many other tasks, McGonigal “suffered a great deal less during the recovery as a direct result of the game.”

Next, McGonigal moves into a recap of types of ARGs discussed in the chapter.

Life-management ARG: like Chore Wars

Organizational ARG: like Quest to Learn

Concept ARG: Like SuperBetter

They are also live event ARGs which gather players at physical locations and narrative ARGs which use multimedia storytelling (like McGonigal’s New York Public Library game, combining both).

Finally, McGonigal’s reminder of the critical essay, “Creating the Play Community” by Bernie DeKoven in The New Games Book is a reminder of her design ethos.

I’ve read McGonigal’s 500-page thesis about performative play, and it is a useful viewpoint because it brings a different lens than most game designers and experience designers currently in the business.

What do you think?

Have you played any Alternate Reality Games? (Does Pokemon Go count? Maybe. It is definitely an augmented reality game that gets you walking around and talking to people in the real world, so sure!)

What do you think? What Alternate Reality Game should we create together?

Let me know in the comments or on Octalysis Prime‘s community (paywall).

Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 6 – Becoming a Part of Something Bigger Than Ourselves

This continues the Readalong by Erik van Mechelen of Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’ with insights from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework. For in-depth discussions of this book and others, join Octalysis Prime.

tl;dr The key to happiness is reducing a focus on oneself and investing effort and attention into something larger than oneself, something of epic proportions, something that gives you awe.


McGonigal’s narrative of Halo’s rise and incorporation of epic meaning from its player base and community-driven goals of 10 billion kills against the Covenant (a fictional enemy to Earth) provides the backdrop for her suggestion that the key to happiness is an investment in something with epic meaning, something that gives one awe in its pursuit.

Continue reading Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 6 – Becoming a Part of Something Bigger Than Ourselves

Semantics vs Value: Tomato TomAto

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.

Semantics vs. Value

To me this discussion is non-productive. I would rather spend my time learning about and harnessing the power of games to change the world for the better, instead of debating over classifications of terms. What good have you created in the world when you spend your day arguing if something is “a game made for traveling” or “travel gamified”?

But there are people who would say, “No. That great example is a serious game! Gamification is just limited to these things that are really lame.” Why do people first define gamification as something lame, and then call it lame? For many years I have also worked on serious game projects and advergames, and if I can utilize that knowledge and experience to help the world, why limit what I can do as a gamification professional just because of some definitions?

I’ll share a little secret with you: For the most stringent academics out there, though I claim to have twelve years of gamification experience, I’m actually a fraud. Technically, I have three years of serious games experience, three years of loyalty program experi- ence, and six years of gamification experience, consisting of two distinct periods. Throughout the entire time, I was driven by the exact same vision of applying game principles to impact the world. Call me lazy, but I’d rather just refer to my work as gamification and start producing results that make a difference in the world instead of arguing about what I can and cannot do as a gamification professional.

I’ve written about how I (along with many “gamification profes- sionals”) am not a big fan of the word “Gamification.” This is mostly the term that the industry has adopted. I have preferred the term “Human-Focused Design” (as opposed to Function-Focused Design), which is a design process that remembers the human motivations within the system.

On a similar note, I also dislike the term “serious games,” as it implies that pure games are not serious – something that millions of serious gamers out there would heavily disagree with. Think how many sports athletes would be offended if they played basketball for a charitable cause, and people called that the “Serious Sports” industry.

Continue reading Semantics vs Value: Tomato TomAto

Simón Duque’s Habitica Design Challenge

Gamification Design Challenge for Habitica

Simón Duque is a Colombian Industrial Engineer who’s not comfortable with the way the world works. Thankfully for him, Gamification came to his life on 2015 and gave him the tools to re-think the world he lives in. For more about Simón, see his credentials at the bottom of this post. 

The Habitica Design challenge was hosted in 2017 by The Octalysis Group. Simón was a finalist. 

Design summary

Habitica’s goal is to build (positive) habits, altough it is now dealing with long-term engagement issues. This Design Challenge was therefore tought out based on the pschological approach to procrastination and the means to identify solutions using the Octalysis Framework.

The analysis of Habitica ends up with different theories and approaches that build up a final list of new and improved features that reflect benefits as it leads users to stay connected to chats and other social features and even invite more friends to join them in their experience.

These social interactions are the ones that support the core desired actions within the app. It also helps improve the dynamics involved specially in CD2 and CD5 by affirming Basic Human Psychological Desires such as Competition and Altruism.

As Tyler Renelle himself said — “In case of building good habits, social accountability is essential”.


Continue reading Simón Duque’s Habitica Design Challenge