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At the end of November 2017, there was a gathering of like-minded individuals in the UK town of Brighton. Well, it’s probably more of a city, it certainly isn’t sleepy, it was definitely cold though. This gathering was the Gamification Europe Conference, and for me, it was last week (as of writing this).
I’d been waiting for the GWC, but unfortunately, that conference wasn’t able to happen this year. In public terms, I may not have been in gamification space for very long, only a year really. But I’ve been researching it and applying some of the ideas and methods since 2012. This year I decided to throw myself into it fully and I had been looking forward to attending an international conference within reach, to meet and learn from fellow enthusiasts and experts. Thankfully the amazing people at Gamification+were able to organize a conference that hit it perfectly in my humble opinion.
Having spent the last few days since the end of the conference reflecting on what I’d heard and learned, I felt that I should probably share my own thoughts on what had happened. And thus, this piece has come into existence. Though this won’t be a detailed breakdown of the 2-day conference, it will simply be a selection of some of the speakers I found interesting and inspiring. I will only give my take on what they spoke about and my own reflections and comments on how they have now influenced my thinking.
Before we get into the mini-exploration, I do want to give my thanks to the people who organized the conference and the sponsors of it: https://gamification-europe.com/exhibitors-sponsors/, along with Pete Jenkins and Vasilis Gkogkidis who organized and ran everything. And also Toby Beresford for organizing the awards for outstanding achievements in gamification in the last year. The conference was an amazing experience, even for someone like me who isn’t terribly great at networking. I met a large amount of interesting and remarkable individuals, and thanks to the awards given out I came to know a great much more and they were all deserving of the accolades bestowed upon them. Winners and runner-ups were all impressive.
But we were all also there to learn from each other, and the speakers and sessions are done in the 2-days certainly lived up to the hype.
There were quite a lot of great speakers on day 1, and unfortunately, I’m not going to go through them. I would recommend looking them up and finding out about them for yourself. For my own reasons, I’ve chosen to give my thoughts on the very first speaker and the very last speaker.
This was a truly outstanding opening keynote speaker. Jeff Gomez essentially took the standpoint that the Hero’s Journey, as a framework is dead. And in its place, is now the Collective Journey. Now if you’ve been to my blog before, you will know I’ve written quite a few pieces on an adjusted Hero’s Journey framework, something I’ve come to call the User’s Journey. So being told the idea was essentially dead in the water peaked my interests a great deal.
I will give a brief overview of some of Jeff’s reasons and thoughts behind this, but if you would like to learn more and read more about his ideas, I can highly recommend you visit his blog on the Collective Journey, as soon as you’ve finished here of course.
Jeff Gomez’s assertion broken down succinctly is that the old model, the hero’s journey is based on survival and conflict, specifically around the individual. This leads to a narrow, binary, over-masculinized model, which doesn’t connect with modern (communication) technology and generally ends with everyone losing, including the hero. This final part is because, as one knows from the narrative hero’s journey, the hero tends to return changed and/or damaged and can no longer connect with the world he was meant to be saved. And let’s be honest, it generally is a he, or an androgynous female archetype.
The model that should and is taking its place, according to Jeff, is the Collective Journey. This framework utilizes transmedia storytelling, the narrative is no longer constricted to just the page or the silver screen. It has become multi-lateral and omnidirectional in its experiential existence. Such large collective based stories allow for the use of modern (communication) technology, as they no longer break the narrative or create unwanted Deus ex Machina’s in traditional archaic narratives. The stories are far more immersive and pervasiveness in their experience, and at the end, everyone wins. As everyone works together to save themselves, each other, and are able to move forward because of their new-found strength and cooperative ability. Conflict as a mechanic to progress the story becomes almost unnecessary in such a narrative world.
The revelation as such around these ideas from Jeff was not new as such. I’ve always been a proponent of the collective, the community, working together to achieve more. And creating pervasive narratives through concepts such as transmedia is something that we are naturally moving towards, and is something I love, as it is a method of world building. Immersion creates better engagement, and the stronger and more meaningful those two are, the greater the value of the individual experience. The reason I do use the word revelation is that of the way Jeff presented in, the contexts he created, and the examples used. That these simply aren’t esoteric ideas, but rather real-world experiences that we should all try to realize and incorporate. It was a reaffirmation that we work we do as gamers are important and can make difference in people’s lives.
The final speaker of Day 1 was An Coppens. Who I connected with as I have also worked in learning environments, specifically ones where e-learning projects were being implemented and created in. Her tips and recommendations when working within such environments, but also in any corporate environment were yet again reaffirming and illuminating.
The main take-away’s that I got from her talk was that one should always endeavor to use strong and tested frameworks to help you develop and to add clarity to your projects. Communication, as we all know, is very important, and needs to be there from the start. Especially the fact should be communicated to everyone that they should be aware that the best solution will arise instantly and immediately. It will take time and several attempts to get the best possible outcome for all.
We should also not forget that we are designing for the end-user always. And they don’t always care about the flashiest tools or the most epic of mechanics. They generally just want something that works and is customized towards them. Basically, An reemphasized the fact that there isn’t really a one-size fit all anymore. People want to feel special and catered for.
The last bit she left everyone is a harking back to the start of the day, and what the next day would start with as well. And that is that narrative is essential, and that it should be used to help guide the player.
In the end, I was left with a piece of advice that I find cannot be repeated enough, and that is the fact that the more you design the better you will become at it.
Day 2 also had a great many speakers, and to go through even half of them would be slowly lead me to write a fairly epic anthology of learning. So, in the interest of time and remaining concentration for you, I will only briefly cover a handful of people that left a specific impression upon me. But again, I suggest you explore everyone that was invited to the conference, as they are all experts in the field.
The second day started with Melinda Jacobs, who gave notable opening piece on what game mechanics suck if there isn’t a good a narrative attached to them. In broad terms, she broke it down to the fact that we should all design experiences based narratives, and that narratives should never be an afterthought.
As a solid narrative can create a higher degree of engagement in the player. Essentially for engagement to work well it needs context. Without a context, it becomes meaningless and loses value. Therefore, challenges in a game or gamified environment will always need a narrative, or at least should always have on.
My takeaway from here, unfortunately, the brief talk was that immersive experiences are improved and increased through strong storytelling. Good narratives and contexts around challenges that you have created for your player will confer value to them and increase meaning, and ultimately create a deeper understanding in the player and what they have learned from your challenges.
In contrast somewhat to the first speaker of Day 1, Melinda did extol the uses of the Hero’s Journey. Though I do feel, and it did appear to be a variation upon the traditional model, one could almost say that within the work done by a gamifier, a hybrid version of the Hero’s Journey and the Collective Journey could exist. As we know, customization is what it’s all about.
The next speaker I’d like mention is Andrzej Marczewski and his great stories about the real-world experience that we should all be aware of.
Briefly, he covered the pitfalls of rules and their importance. Why they should be clearly defined from the start. And that people should be made aware that there is a clear distinction between what is termed rules and what people understand under fair play. One is written and defines the boundaries of the game. The other is a social understanding that simply allows people to enjoy themselves without the system being deformed for the benefit of a singular or a few individuals.
Within that, the next point of rewards also fit quite snugly. That rewards should not be more important than the task or challenge laid out by the system. This will diminish the task and possibly alienate people from even attempting it.
The final piece of advice Andrzej gave, and what would be my main takeaway from his talk, is that you must always conduct well-rounded research to effectively figure what the problem is that you are trying to solve. This seems obvious, at first, but there are too many cases of what he termed as solutioneering. Where a solution is developed, quite an elaborate one sometimes, to a problem that doesn’t actually exist. And I can say that there are instances and examples where we can see this, where the individual becomes so engrossed, where they’ve put on their own blinders and don’t actually see what the problem is or if it’s even there.
This is a pretty short piece on Michael Wu’s session, as it was a workshop so was more centered around learning and exploration. But I wanted to briefly mention it as I found it an invaluable session.
The learning that I received was the affirmation that good placement of metrics is of importance to successful gamification. Without metrics and the ability to measure we would not have the applicable understanding of what behaviors and desired actions need to be taken.
Harking back to Andrzej talk, solid research must be done, and with that, the correct metrics can be used to measure the effect and outcome of the desired behaviors in your gamification project. In the end, the resultant data can be used to iterate and improve your gamification design, thereby making it more successful.
As you can see, there was the specific thread that went through all the various sessions. The narrative is important, research is important, and metrics are important. With all the sessions I did not have space or time to mention, this thread traveled through them as well. And I would like to again thank everyone for what they presented. It is these kinds of event that are incredibly important for the exchange and sharing of knowledge between experts, interested parties, and laymen. And also, to increase the awareness of the great work done. I sincerely hope that many more, in many different countries will appear next year. And I hope to see and meet new and old colleagues in the Gamification community.
I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.
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