Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay 

author: @aestranger

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The Rise and Re-birth of the Anti-Goal

A Gamified perspective of goals and anti-goals

Anti-heroes’, who doesn’t love a good anti-hero. Deadpool probably proved it the best in recent years. They are in my opinion far more realistic depictions of individuals who are thrown into extraordinary situations. So, considering this concept, a few weeks ago I had the idea of the anti-goal. What would an anti-goal, if it were like an anti-hero, look like in reference to a goal, especially when considering the roles it could play in gamification and learning.

If we look at the literary device of the anti-hero, we that it isn’t the opposite of the hero. It’s not the same as a hero and a villain, polar opposites. The anti-hero rather combines both the good and the bad of humanity and thus shows us, the audience, the reality of what it means to be really human.

The anti-goal then, in my opinion, should be something similar to this. The term anti-goal isn’t new, it has been written about before and in that version, it is depicted as the opposite of a goal. An example of the thought process around the Anti-Goal Version 1.0 is Goal: Lose Weight / Anti-Goal: Want to avoid getting out of breath, so will stop eating crappy food.

The example has some of the beginnings of what the new anti-goal concept will hopefully be. What it should look like is a combination of both of what the success of the goal should be, as well as what it would take to fail to achieve that goal. The combination would then show the true underlying issues as well as the true desires and needs of the goal and activities around it.

The way we’re going to look into creating this new concept of the anti-goal is by following some the thoughts around what it used to be and then develop our own new version. In essence, we will be doing the good old process of the thesis, the anti-thesis and then the synthesis. So the TL;DR of the piece is this then:

  • Inversion thinking – the original form of anti-goal thinking and the practice of inverting the goal to better manage failure and understand success.
  • Goal of the anti-Goal – breaking down the goal and reverse engineering it from the perspective of failure, distraction and loss aversion, to better sculpt a true image of success.

Inversion Thinking

Inversion thinking certainly isn’t anything new. It was used by the Stoic Thinkers of Ancient Rome to envision negative outcomes and the negative things in life. They did this to better understand the adverse aspects of the world, but also to know how to manage failure in life.

The term that the stoic’s used for this was Prededitatio Malorum or ‘premeditation of evil’. This “was used to envision worst-case scenarios to resolve yourself against failure. By anticipating situations of complete failure, it not only helps the thinker mentally prepare, but also to see what we can do to avoid failure.”(link) What this school of thought offers us is a starting point for what the anti-goal should look like.

Using the inverted point of view of understanding what the negative of an outcome is and developing a method to avoid it, allows us to anticipate what failure could look like. Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s business partner, was a great proponent of this type of inverted thinking, especially when it came to business. His viewpoint was that of reversing a goal, and that once it was reversed it would become easier to understand and therefore solve. Much of what this is essentially a different version of loss-aversion, a concept that many gamifiers are very familiar with, especially when it comes to extrinsically motivating players.

Though I feel that one thing does need to be made clear when we discuss inversion thinking and reversing goals to create an anti-goal. Inversion thinking is not a form of negative thinking, otherwise known as or called pessimism. This type of thinking would likely come closer to a form of anticipatory realism. Coming to an understanding of what the realities are around trying to achieve a goal and what the fail points are and developing a strategy around anticipating those possible pitfalls.

Thus as a creator and as a player, it is evolving a methodology of moving more towards an understanding of knowing what the failure points are, accepting them and incorporating. As well as moving towards mitigating or avoiding them and achieving success for your goals.

Unfortunately, too often it happens that creators and players aim for a possible success point that has no frame of reference. At least no other than simply being a success and a win, which can often be an esoteric and intangible concept somewhere off in the distance. This then doesn’t allow for a holistic goal/anti-goal approach. What we need to do then is use some of the concepts of creating experience journey’s from gamification to have a better long-term strategy.

The Goal of the Anti-Goal

How does all of this work with and help with gamification?

Well, much of gamification is about creating or determining a goal or objective for something. Usually a business goal or a learning objective, and then artfully renaming and redevising it into something that looks and sounds gameful and fun.

But this practice of rebranding and reskinning a goal often leads to the first failure point for a gamified experience. Players may not be motived by it or become less motivated over time to achieve the goal or objective. This may be because it is not the goal they wanted to achieve, or it is such a faraway point or concept that it has no value to them in the short-term, or they can’t see a way to get from here, to all the way over there.

Therefore, to avoid this happening when utilizing the concept of an anti-goal within gamification, we need to understand what it is and what it isn’t. An anti-goal isn’t a substitution for a goal. Unlike what it was in its original form, or simply a renaming of the goal in its reversed form. No, rather the idea and form of an anti-goal should be a supplement to the goal. Much like the anti-hero that embodies both the good and bad qualities of us all, the anti-goal should combine both goal and reverse goal.

A good methodology for how to approach this new form of anti-goal thinking and the process of developing an anti-goal is to consider it with the methodology of First Principles Thinking, which essentially breaks down large problems into its smaller component parts. The anti-goal then is a way of reverse-engineering the goal so that you can better understand all its inherent parts and allow your players to better tackle it.

What you’re doing then is breaking the goal down into individual parts that illustrate how to and how not to achieve the ultimate goal. This method can then be used in conjunction with creating a player journey within your gamified experience. It allows you the creator to discover the various pathways that a player could follow, fail, retry and succeed. And it will also illustrate the pain points and areas of distraction that your players may come across while pursuing the goal. These are all areas that enable you to help them avoid bad experiences and target better experiences, for learning purposes or business purposes, or more.

Thus, knowing these aspects of the goal and anti-goal and combining them together will allow you to create a better overall and more holistic gamified experience for your players. The method of the anti-goal lets you reveal the reality of the activity, what actions are required and grant you the ability to develop a better understanding of what the win and fail conditions are for the goals and your players. Or rather what will cause them to fail and what will allow them to achieve eventual success.

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.

Do check out the other posts on æStranger.com, and do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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