Close this search box.
gamified experiences

author: @aestranger

Reading time: 12 minutes

Setting the mood in your gamified experiences

Creating gamified experiences and game-based learning experiences are fairly complex endeavours. And a lot of the focus of such endeavours is quite rightly directed towards the core learning and it’s value to the participants. But this does not mean that you shouldn’t spend an equal amount of time on everything that goes around it and on the peripheries that help these experiences really embed and cement the core learning for your participants.

Whether you are creating analogue, in-person, live-action gamified experiences, or digital, online ones or blended learning courses, you should not discount the value and the power of all the features that stimulate the various sense for your participants. Tapping into their senses can help to fully immerse them in your gamified experience. Using objects for tactile immersion, audio and visual features to set the mood and world that they are entering are a must.

It’s important to not underestimate the value of sensory experiences. Many people developing and delivering game-based experiences neglect these features, and unfortunately, this low level of effort in using these features can eventually lead to an increased lack of engagement in participants. It’s easier to get buy-in and immersion into a narrative or theme if participants can see, hear and touch things that are associated with that ‘fictional’ world.

The feature that should be considered when enhancing an experience you are delivering are:

  • Handouts
  • Props
  • Video
  • Actors
  • Sound Effects
  • Music

As a disclaimer though, the majority of the features discussed in this piece are most effective when they are combined with an appropriate theme and narrative. What I mean by this is that the theme and narrative should be consistent and visible through the features that you decide to add.

Additionally, some of the features that I will discuss may focus more on in-person, live experiences, but each feature can work in any delivery format, be it digital, blended or live.


Handouts, who doesn’t love a good handout. Every facilitator will usually have a stack of handouts ready, to hand out as they move through whatever it is they are delivering. They are by far the most common feature in any in-person experience, and sometimes even in digital ones. Many online courses have PDF handouts for their participants.

Handouts are usually simple one-pages, but they can and should be so much more for your participants. The most useful and memorable formats for giving relevant information are those that add to the experience, and those usually appear in the form of a larger booklet.

Having a booklet as the container for the handouts gives the participant something that they can take along on their learning journey, and something far more enduring than a single page. Take for example the PDF booklets of the Masterclass Courses, each PDF is bespoke and unique aesthetically to the course and the lecturer. This connects the learner in a very specific way to the course.

An issue that I suspect many facilitators will say at this point is: But if I give them a booklet with everything in it, how can I pace their learning and reveal information to them at the appropriate points? My answer to this is another question: why are you hiding information or intentionally slowing down their learning? If a participant shoots ahead through the booklet, then that is their choice. They may not understand everything they come across yet or its relevance, but the probable benefit is that when you get to that point, they will have had a preview of it and likely have a better understanding of it now. And for all other areas that do indeed need to remain a surprise, add them to the experience through other features or allow for the booklet to have the possibility that the participant can add to it themselves, such write in it, paste, attach, and so forth.

For this to be a possibility though, you must spend some time on the design of the booklet. Don’t be stingy on this, have it be consistent with the theme and narrative of your gamified experience. But it also does not need to eat away at your budget. Clean, minimalist and consistent designs are as effective as something more extravagant and expensive. What you want at the end of the day is something that looks professional, is on brand/theme and helps your participants connect and immerse themselves.

For example, with an experience like our Restaurant Manager scenario, we would place images of busy restaurants and intersperse the text with food art and so forth, to help the participant buy-in to the experience a bit further. It doesn’t need to be a glossy graphic novel in order to have the desired effect, even though that would be nice.

Augmented Reality

If you wish to level up your handout game, then don’t forget that you can make use of Augmented Reality technology, to give it that extra boost and interaction. You can choose to either engage the services of any number of companies who offer the service, or you can develop a few yourself. There are quite a few applications that allow you to make bespoke AR additions. Though some appear to target the K-12 sector, many can be used for any kind of experience, and some may even fit your theme choice in terms of aesthetics, better than others would.


Props are generally more suited to in-person, live-action gamified experiences, but they are not exclusive to them. Even in blended and digital learning offerings, you can have either physical or digital props that aid your participants in their learning and in buying into the experience.

As a bit of additional knowledge, the etymology of the word Prop is derived from Theatrical Property, as the objects used in the theatre were that theatre’s specific property and the shorthand for requesting the objects became props.

Props, in a live-action experience, can tie the participant to the narrative world in a very real way. Actually having something to touch that belongs to the story can be highly stimulating and immersive, and if it’s something that can be used, then the immersion is even stronger.

For example in our scenarios within the Adventure genre, we have a strong puzzle element in them, and allowing participants to have and hold the puzzle that they need to solve is far more engrossing to play with than a paper representation of it.

Digital props then, are in-game items or even power-ups that your participants can accrue and save up during their learning experience. Even a badge or certificate can be seen as a prop that will create value for your participants.

Remember that the prop does need to have a purpose within the theme, story and overall learning experience. It cannot be there and exist simply for the sake of it being there. It must have some significance and preferably one that furthers the journey of the participant. If the prop is consistent with the theme but it has no purpose will frustrate and alienate your participants from the learning experience.



Video is often seen as overly difficult and expensive to make; due to the logistics and post-production time, it takes to produce something of a decent quality. This I can tell you is a complete misconception, that is promoted by larger film companies and the brands that sell the equipment. Video can be done on anything nowadays and it is a great tool for creating and increasing the believability of a fictional world for your participants.

A good starting point to use video for is with the briefing video. This opening ‘briefing’ video does need to be of high quality, but with the ease and accessibility of videomaking technology nowadays, this should not be a daunting task. æStranger has a few blogs on low budget filmmaking if you are interested, as well as offers editing services if you need them. We will also have an online course in the near future on low-budget (guerrilla) filmmaking for those interested in it.

Using video however does not need to only be for the opening briefing, low budget forms of video clips can be used during the experience. For example in the Cyber Attack or Viral Outbreak scenario, participants may receive short video clips made on a phone that extend the story of the scenario they are part of. In the case of those scenario’s, a specialist in the field could be sending them footage of a consequence that their decisions caused. These small pieces, even with a low budget, add immersion and authenticity to the narrative experience.

One aspect you must remember though is that the audio, even on the low budget clips, needs to be of a high quality. There is no point in having a video if your participants cannot understand what is being said in the video.


Actors are another great tool to implement if you want to level up your experience. And they need not only be for the in-person experiences. Using actors for the videos either in live-action or online learning experiences adds another level of realism to what the participants are experiencing.

In our Corporate Crisis role-play scenarios, bringing in actors for characters that participants need to deal with will aid them in honing their communication skills. Such as going through difficult conversations or dealing with unpleasant or distressed individuals. The realism and the stress that comes with that will help in embedding the learning fully into the participant’s minds.

With online or digital offerings, a video with an actor that truly conveys the emotions of the situation will resonate far more powerfully with your participants than a transcript of the same scenario would.


Sound Effects

Sound effects may sound a bit gimmicky (pun intended) but remember that sound effects can create atmosphere and can also be used as audio cues for specific events within your experience.

Many of our scenarios are timed experiences and have specific events that occur during the scenario. By using sound effects, we can alert participants to the fact that something special is happening, perhaps a change in the course of scenario or maybe a call to action for them to act due to an ‘unexpected’ turn of events.

Sound effects can be the sound of air rushing by, or waves lapping on a beach, all of these can set the scene and the mood of a specific moment in an experience or for the entirety of it. In our Stranded scenario for example, we would have the sounds of waves and seagulls on a deserted island to set the scene for the participants, and to bring home that they are stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Do keep in mind that the sound effects must be on theme and augment the music chosen for the experience. Having random sound effects for gimmicky purposes, such as honks, or sound effects that are jarring with the music chosen, will disrupt the suspension of disbelief in your participants.



Last, but not least is music. Music is likely the most underrated feature that any experience can benefit from. Far too many facilitators focus primarily on handouts, the knowledge pieces, the videos and sometimes on the props to bring everything to life. But music is such a powerful feature for immersing people into something that it should not be ignored.

As an example, and experiment, try and remember an important event in your life from 10-20 years ago. You’ll likely remember it fairly well. Now pick a song you loved from 10-20 years ago, around the same time as the memory you picked just now. What do you remember now and how much clearer was the memory associated with that music? Did the memory and music come with a whole set of emotions and tangential memory experiences? I suspect it did.

The purpose of the example is to show how much music can connect us to the memory and knowledge of a point in time. Coupling this with a group-based experience, it can lead to an experience and its inherent learning being cemented quite strongly in an individual’s mind for a very long time.

Therefore, spending an appropriate amount of time on creating a playlist for your experience that effectively sets the mood and atmosphere can go a long way to engaging even the most reticent of participants into your experience.

Music and the accompanying sound effects can create entire worlds in which people can lose themselves. The desired effect should be that if the participant were to close their eyes for a moment, that they would be transported to the location of the story in their imaginations.

Final Thoughts

Despite the lengthy list, you do not need every feature to have a successful delivery of a gamified learning experience. Though having all these features will give a more holistic and improved experience for your participants.

If due to time or budget reasons you cannot add or improve all the features, then focus on one that likely needs the most attention and enhance that one for the moment. It is better to have at least one excellent feature than five mediocre ones.

And remember that it does not need to break the bank, you do not need Hollywood levels of production for your videos, or graphic novel quality for your handouts. A good way of looking at it is in terms of the theme and narrative, for example, does the experience take place in a post-apocalyptic world with challenges that require difficult decisions? Well then, all the features to create this world can be slightly gritty and used, as that fits with the overall theme.

As long as you are aiding your participants in immersing and learning, and not detracting or distracting from it, then you will have been successful in adding useful features to your gamified experiences.

If you are interested in learning more about Gamification and in particular on how to create a Marketing Gamification experience within your company then do check out our book Press Start: Using Gamification to Power-up Your Marketing. Or have a browse through the website and blog for any solutions that may suit you and your company.

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.

Please do check out the other posts on æ, and please 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.

Please do Share if you found it helpful and know of someone who would it find it helpful as well. And if you are feeling generous then you can support us through PayPal or on our Ko-fi page.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

before you go!

Before you go and grab your copy of Press Start, would you like your free White Paper on how to better engage your audience and other bonuses?

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Before you go!

Before you go and grab your copy of Press Start, would you like your free White Paper on how to better engage your audience and other bonuses?

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.