Theme vs. Mechanics

When I’m thinking about Game Design there are two elements that I’m trying to use in order to make my point, Theme and Mechanics. (For those of you that don’t know, I design games to explain the complicated systems that are involved with aspects of sustainability.)

Theme

While there are games out there that are abstract, or have a specific storyline, more often you are going to find that games have a theme.   In Ticket to Ride you are competing to build train routes, Agricola deals with farmers & resource management, and  Battlestar Gallactica deals with… well it follows the plot.

When playing a game that deals with a particular topic you are doing the education through the story or the theme to get your point across.

The other option is to make the mechanic do the teaching.  For example, in a game where I’m trying to teach about recycling I would have an interaction in the game that gave a benefit to recycling.  It wouldn’t have to be called recycling or even have that topic at all, but simple by gaining benefit over and over for that type of action players would become better recyclers.

Habits are practiced actions which is why games are so good at teaching.  If you repeat something over and over again you are more likely to hold on to that habit.  People seek new behaviors in life regularly for purposes such as diet, exercise, et cetera and over the past 10 years we’ve seen a great influx of games for purposes other than just the sake of play.  Gamification of the online portal or website is also on the upswing as the internet becomes crowded and companies are seeking to create a draw to their sites.

The games that I’m working on are didactic because of this.  Having the desire to change is only part of the equation.  Going green means a shift in actions many of which are lifelong ingrained habits.  Those habits worked for us up until now, but with the world on the precipice of wide scale extinction we need to shift into high gear.  So how do you eradicate habits that aren’t good for you?

So when I’m choosing to build a tool and I have to decide between theme or mechanic it really depends on the nuance tat I’m going for.  Am I trying to make someone think about the topic?  Then it’s the theme.  If I’m trying to ingrain a shift in habit?  Then it is mechanic, for sure.

Booritos & Transformation

People wait on a long line to get burritos from Chipotle on Halloween
Boorito Night: A cell phone picture of a very long line.

or What Chipotle and the Dali Lama have in common.
(hint: They are able to touch and transform a lot of people)

Lately I’ve been spending quite a bit of time thinking about gifting and inviting abundance into my life. I’ve also been very focused on personal transformation.  I’ve done breath work, dream analysis, meditation, et cetera.  I’m following this path because I can feel and see changes happening in my life and in the lives of those around me and its powerful stuff.

But much of the change that I’ve seen is localized or only affects a certain sector of the population that can afford it.  While I see the consciousness of the business world shifting through my friends’ businesses at SVN I wasn’t seeing much mainstream or popularized that really grabbed our transforming planet by the balls and… ok maybe a different metaphor.  Not that they weren’t doing enough.  They just hadn’t gone off the high dive.  I’ve been seeing the change as we live the words of Ghandi, and even some cool new products and businesses, but holy crap Chipotle just did a cannon ball into a pool that’s only had a little splashing.

Continue reading “Booritos & Transformation”

Games for Didactic Use

One of the things that is important to me is creating positive change in the world.  While I loved teaching, I felt that there had to be a better way to connect with people.  After watching the failures of schools to produce responsible students and that of the environmental movement increasing changes for the survival of the species it seemed clear that there is a better way.  So I researched and read and looked at what appeared to be successful.  What I’ve come to is that games area fun and engaging way to connect with and communicate a message.  While the message can be communicated through both the theme and the mechanics either should provide a better way for information to be retained as behavior change.

The use of games for education is a growing field, although it has been in practice for decades in experiential education.  Using games in education, in a didactic purpose, is linked with greater understanding and better assimilation of the information by players.  I may not be a scientist, but I can observe that there is movement on the games front as this understanding percolates through society and more play pops up. Continue reading “Games for Didactic Use”

To Gamify or Not to Gamify

To Gamify or Not to Gamify

That is the question.

Gamification is a hot topic nowadays.  In conversation I’m seeing people reaching blindly towards gamification the same way they stumbled towards social media five years ago.  To many, gamification is something that they’ve heard about people doing successfully and so they want it.

Pint the Tail on the DonkeyThe surge in interest in games reminds me of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.  A little silly to watch, but everyone genuinely wants to succeed.  The other interesting dynamic is that I’m not sure anyone can see the donkey yet.  While we are working closer and closer to understanding how to do this, it seems to be a field that includes elements connecting game designers, educators, and marketing professionals and thus one which our incongruous education system of silo-ed study has not created an environment conducive to cross disciplinary understanding and action.  Some might disagree on this point, but I’d point out that in order to design effective games you need to understand systems theory, game design, psychology, math, sociology, etc.

But back to the topic at hand.  In the past years candy, and other ‘junk food’ companies offered games to their consumers on their websites.  I expect that they were seeking to get traffic to their websites.  The games that I’ve seen often have little to do with the brand, but there in the background was the logo.  M&M’s does this with a shuffleboard game, for example.  The point is obviously engagement since you don’t need to play a game to open a bag of M&M’s.  Connecting your product to an enjoyable experience is a good idea and one that came naturally and early to that sector. Continue reading “To Gamify or Not to Gamify”

Gamifying Create Better Impact Games

Create Better Impact LogoSo as you may know Create Better Impact Games is my company.  I design games around making the world a better place which I know will one day be worthy of winning awards from Games for Change. Right now, this is a little tiny company with a little tiny budget.  Not that one day it won’t be able to hold its own with the big boys, but for now marketing is not the top priority.

As I got ready to bring Waste Not to market using an Indiegogo Campaign I had to think seriously about how to approach marketing. While I have a lot of people in my contacts I couldn’t be sure who would actually have natural interest and who might need some convincing.

Being a game designer I tried to think of ways to make liking or signing up on social media fun and engaging to the community.  This process is called gamification and everyone and their mother is currently trying to apply it to their web presence.  I am lucky that it is part of my natural reaction to communications.

Waste Not Logo
What are you going to do with it?

Back to the point.  There I was at the start of a campaign trying to raise money to print Waste Not.  My Facebook page for both CBI Games and Waste Not were relatively new with little to now following, I had just begun a Twitter presence for Waste Not, and I had nothing on Google+.  So in response I decided to give away a version of my game for free via social media.  You heard me, for free.

I figured that if people got a chance to play the game, even if slightly different interactions than with having a deck of cards, that they’d be more likely to ‘like’ and engage with the marketing of the brand.  In this case, I was seeking to let the game speak for itself.

Now I’ve been going forward with the understanding that this deck of cards will be able to be used in many ways.  That will always happen when you give someone a flexible tool, is that they will begin to bend it and play with it.  In fact many of the stories that we know from childhood have changed over the centuries.  The basic story is still there to communicate the archetypal hero/ine’s journey but the details change.

Well that’s exactly what I’m seeing happening with Waste Not on Social Media.  While the instructions were to share the status so that others could see what you were liking and playing people tended to comment on the Waste Not status.  While this did not garner the amazing viral experience I was hoping for, I did get the benefit of seeing how people began to play the game.  And let me tell you it was fun!  Yes, my games are fun for me too.  Especially when I get to watch others play.

While I’ve let go of the control over the rules and will continue to allow for this project to flow and grow, I’m glad that I undertook this experiment in the gamification of my own marketing.  I think overall those that played did have fun and many of them played several times.  What I’m seeing now is a small but committed group of people who are totally engaged.  I’d prefer this any day to a large, unengaged group.  My hypothesis is that as long as I follow the same theory of engagement that as the following grows it may be smaller initially but they will be more valuable relationships.