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The 8 Core Drives of Gamification #1: Epic Meaning & Calling

Epic Meaning & Calling

The First Motivation Core Drive of Octalysis Gamification

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

Epic Meaning & Calling is the First Core Drive of the Gamification Framework Octalysis. This is the drive where people are motivated because they believe they are engaged in something that is bigger than themselves.

Games trigger this Core Drive often. Many times in games, the world is about to be destroyed, and somehow, you as the player are the only qualified candidate to save the world. Sound exciting and motivating?

How about real life? Do we ever encounter scenarios where we are driven by Epic Meaning & Calling?

Have you ever wondered why:

  • People contribute to the non-profit website Wikipedia? What would make someone spend hours updating a site that doesn’t pay her or even help her build her resume?
  • Why are people so loyal to Apple products, to the extent that they know they want to buy the next product even before they know what it is?
  • Why are school rivalries so engaging, driving radical behaviors such as pranks, streaking, violence, and profit for the schools?
  • Why do Asian kids work so hard for their parents throughout their life?
  • Why do people buy Life Insurance, giving up current cash they could enjoy for potential future cash that they know they cannot enjoy?
  •  At the most extreme front, why do people sacrifice and even become martyrs of ideals they believe in? Certainly it is not comfortable, and it’s hard to imagine anything they will gain from and enjoy after such a big sacrifice.

What is Epic Meaning & Calling?

Epic Meaning and Calling is the need or the urge to be a part of something much bigger than just yourself. When this drive is activated, participants choose to be members of your system and will take action not because it necessarily benefits them directly, but because it turns them into the heroes of the company’s story.

This core drive is activated when your system inspires people and gets them excited about being part of a bigger purpose or plan.

When your system or product demonstrates deep and sincere passion towards a higher vision, others will want to believe in you and be on the journey with you, even if it means foregoing financial compensation (which is our Left-Brain Core Drive #4 – Ownership & Possession).

This is where the magic happens. By activating Epic Meaning and Calling, you’ll gain active participants and grow your customer base or audience through their passion and commitment to your cause, sometimes to an irrational degree.

Epic Meaning and Calling can possibly be implemented anytime within a player’s journey, but is most often introduced when people are starting to interact with your system, which is the Discovery Phase and the onboarding phase.

But how do you instill Epic Meaning and Calling into your users or customers?

Here are five Game Techniques to incorporate Epic Meaning and Calling into your system in ways that will build engagement, motivation, and loyalty. For each concept, there will also be examples of organizations across all different industries that use these concepts to improve user interaction within their systems.

Narrative (Game Technique #10)

Most games start with a narrative that gives the player some context about WHY she should play the game. Many of them are related to saving the world, a princess, solving a case, or even just helping a dragon or crocodile take a bath.

So why don’t we use narrative to give people content in other things?

One of the most straightforward ways to install Epic Meaning & Calling into your user base is through an engaing Narrative, which allows you to introduce a story that gives people context for a higher meaning in terms of interacting with your company, product, or website.

Zamzee, a “wearable technology” company for children, uses narratives to instill a fantasy Epic Meaning & Calling into children in order to make them exercise more.

Through its online software interface, Zamzee gives kids fantasy quests, such as becoming a sorcerer’s apprentice. In order to learn your first spell, you run up and down the stairs 15 times.

Even though the action itself is disconnected from the narrative, just having them make-believe a magical meaning inspires the kids to exercise more because now they are motivated by their own imaginations.

Zamzee shows that kids who participate in these imaginary missions move 54% more than kids who don’t.

Humanity Hero (Game Technique #27)

If you can incorporate a world mission into your offerings, you can gain even more buy-in during the on-boarding process. The way this works is to tie the actions you want people to take to something that will make the world a better place.

One company that does an incredible job of installing a sense of Humanity Hero is TOM’s Shoes, which sends one pair of shoes to a child in a third-world country whenever you buy from them.

The idea that you can put shoes on someone else’s feet every time you make a purchase is extremely motivating. Additionally, when customers wear the shoes, they let others know that they are helping the world, which is a method of Touting (Game Technique #64) within Social Influence & Relatedness.

Free Rice is another example that utilizes the Humanity Hero technique. is a website that donates 10 grains of rice for every correct answer on the educational questions they have on their site. The funding comes from the ads and the number of page views they generate from question answerers.

To date, FreeRice has donated 6100 metric TONS of rice, consisting of 93 billion grains of rice and enough to feed 10 million people.

If you tie your system to a cause that a lot of people care about, you can build an entire business on the goodwill of others.

Elitism (Game Technique #26)

Epic Meaning and Calling 300

Allowing your users or customers to form a prideful group based on ethnicity, beliefs, or common interests makes them feel like they are part of a larger cause.

Elitism instills group pride, which means each member tries to secure the pride of the group by taking specific actions. The group also attempts to frustrate its rivals, which can lead both groups upping their actions to beat the competition.

This is why University Rivalries are so engaging. When I was attending UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), it was very difficult to not feel the strong rivalry against USC (University of Southern California).

Starting from orientation as a Freshman, there is no lack of content and jokes that sets the scene of the USC rivalry. During sports seasons, this rivalry reaches its pinnacle, with both sides aggressively, sometimes violently, insulting each other.

There are even T-Shirts printed with the text, “My 2 favorite teams are UCLA, and whoever is playing USC.”

UCLA Elitism












Both sides believe that this rivalry is bigger than themselves, and with this newly instilled sense of Elitism, they go about doing many irrational activities because they “should” as a proud representative of that school.

Even though rivalries are engaging, even fun, for students, who benefits the most from the school rivalries? It is the universities themselves.

By creating an outside enemy that students “should hate with a passion,” it creates more “school spirit” where students bond together and commit “Desired Actions” in frenzies. Tickets to games against USC sell out quickly, with everyone gearing up with UCLA merchandise and war paint.

More importantly, students feel a stronger tie towards their Alma Mater, which means that later on in their careers, they are more prone to donate to their schools since that’s what successful alumni “should” do.

I too implicitly feel that I “should” donate to my Alma Mater, but not because of any personal gains, but for a purpose beyond my own selfish and family matters.

Another great example of Elitism is demonstrated by the microlending platform, which allows developed countries to pseudo-donate their money to help third world country villagers start their small businesses to sustain their families.

To create a sense of Elitism, created groups and showed statistics that allowed Christians and Atheists to compete against each and see who contributes more money to help third world countries.

The Christians believed that, since the Bible tells them to love God and love one another beyond all things, they should demonstrate generosity to the world and help those in need, and so they increased their contributions. The Atheists, on the other hand, wanted to prove that one does not need to believe in a god to be kind to fellow human beings, so they also increased their contributions.

Again, both sides contributed more than they would have otherwise, simply because they felt they were doing it for a bigger purpose than themselves.

Beginner’s Luck (Game Technique #23)

Epic Meaning and Calling Beginners Luck

This is the “Calling” in Epic Meaning & Calling. Calling makes people think they are uniquely destined to do something. And one of the Game Techniques that can introduce the sense of Calling is Beginner’s Luck.

With Beginner’s Luck, people feel like they’ve been one of the few chosen to take action—which makes them much more likely to take it.

If a gamer, upon the first day of playing a game, randomly earns one of the most powerful swords in the game that even veteran players couldn’t get easily, chances are he isn’t going to quit on day one. He’ll likely be using that powerful sword to kill monsters fanatically until the next hook in the game shows up.

The game designer would likely also add in Social Influence & Relatedness (Core Drive 5) by designing in Touting Horns (Game Technique #64), which are mechanism that allow the user to implicitly show off what they are proud of.

If the game designer also adds Scarcity & Impatience (Core Drive 6) through a Generals Carrot (Game Technique #11) by telling the user he can only equip this sword once he defeats a particular level that is very difficult, now the user becomes obsessed and tries to figure out all sorts of ways to defeat that level.

Free Lunch (Game Technique #24)


Along the lines of the “Calling” theme, giving freebies that usually cost money for others to certain people in a way that ties to a larger theme can make customers feel special and encourage them to take further action.

For example, Spoleto, a Brazilian restaurant chain with over 200 restaurants throughout Brazil, Spain, and Mexico, gave a literal free lunch to any female who told them she was beautiful, in celebration of International Women’s Day.

This helped promote a positive message and made the women feel special for that day, and it will probably bring them back on other days too, as this is the place that made them feel uniquely special.

Believability is Key

Even though Epic Meaning & Calling is powerful beyond measure, it can also backfire and fail in epic proportions. As you use these concepts, keep in mind that you can really turn people off when you’re appearing disingenuous in your efforts to create Epic Meaning and Calling.

For example, if a major gasoline company that is known to “profit from evil” tried to convince people to use their brand by saying, “pumping with us protects the planet.” Customers would not only be unimpressed, they will feel insulted.

Or if a certain fast food conglomerate that is known for cheap unhealthy foods that happens to never decompose run a marketing campaign that says, “Eating our food protects your health and your family,” people may also see that as a manipulative slap in the face.

Even in fantasy make-believe settings like Zombies Run, where users are motivated to run more because they are trying to save their village from hypothetical zombies, you want to make sure the user is prepared to believe in the fantasy higher meaning in that context. Pretending there are zombies in the room during large corporate board meetings to get everyone to stand up more would likely not fare too well (and don’t tell the Board Directors that you did it because you read my book on Epic Meaning & Calling).

Once you have firmly established believability of your Epic Meaning & Calling, then you have a good chance of appealing to this Core Drive effectively to bring out the fun and selflessness out of people.

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