Humane design and Gamification

I have recently been thinking about responsible design, development and practice of gamification. As gamification rises in popularity within the business community, companies may feel pressured to start applying it to their websites and business processes (both customer and employee facing) and may do this without a thorough understanding of what it entails or how to proceed. Gamification can be used/misused as a tool to modulate certain behaviour, which may be desirable from the commercial perspective or even for increasing productivity when it comes to employee-facing applications.

When used for designing user experience for commercial/customer-facing purposes for instance, we should not focus on short-term gratification and immediate commercial gain. A more thoughtful, affective and humane experience design will ensure repeat business/customers in the long run. Based on a small-scale study on gamification for business purposes (see Arnab, Nalla, Harteveld and Lameras, 2015), we found that the companies we approached were using their own design framework to help map player types and behaviours, which influence the development of gamified solutions specific to their clients’ needs. Distilling from the methodologies the companies deploy, the general flow includes: (1.) Understand the business objectives and define more specific goals; (2.) Define the behaviours that will lead to business objectives; (3.) Understand the target audience or players; (4.) Apply game mechanics according to the player types and desired behaviours; and (5.) Analyse behaviours, measure results and optimise accordingly, in order to achieve success in applying gamification in business.

Looking at gamification from the experience design perspectives, the relationships between people, context and activities are key to ensuring a more ‘humane’ and ‘responsible’ approach to the proceedings. One of the key findings from the same study indicates “a great emphasis on avoiding de-humanising the target users by using trivial mechanics in hope of engaging them as a common entity by performing player profiling instead and emphasizing motivations and emotions in order to establish an engaging user experience.” (Arnab et al. 2015, page 9). This is a practice that the game design community has embraced (Isbister & Schaffer 2008) but which has not always found its way in gamification projects (Deterding 2011).

The intended/designed experience should add positive values to the users’ well-being in some ways, leading to a win-win situation. Yu-Kai Chu (2015), the creator the Octalysis Gamification Framework emphasises that Gamification is design that places the most emphasis on human motivation in the process. In essence, it is Human-Focused Design (as opposed to “function-focused design”)” and that “Human-Focused Design remembers that people in a system have feelings, insecurities, and reasons why they want or do not want to do certain things, and therefore optimizes for their feelings, motivations, and engagement.”

When it comes to using gamification for learning, I am keen to see how learners can be co-designers of the gamified experience- whether we are talking about digital gamification or gamification as a meta-game acting as a narrative for encapsulating learning activities or a hybrid approach. As in a business context, the teaching and learning context should also create an engaging experience without compromising on the desired learning outcomes. A win-win situation- where play-learn scenarios can produce learners with transversal skills ready for the world of works or further education.

game changer logo 300dpiIn Game Changers, we are attempting to foster a Game Design Thinking culture. The small-scale pilot so far demonstrated potential and impact in both the formal and informal settings as Coventry University but to nurture “Gaming Literacy” and to widen the appeal, we need to put more effort in the on-boarding sessions to get support from the learners and educators. There are plans for co-designing of the next iteration of the programme, and there are interests beyond the boundaries of Coventry University to co-design and implement this nationally and internationally. So watch this space.

I have also talked about designing and constructing our own Hero’s Journey that will help us make sense of our education- how to create our own narratives and identify the relevant performance indicators towards fostering self-reinforcement. Watch my TEDx talk below:

For more gamification examples, please have a look at the many initiatives around the world:


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