The Power of systems

11:31 AM Unknown 0 Comments

In a previous post, I discussed the question of game mechanics and how they can be used to support certain design intentions. Today I would like to share some thoughts about systems, the underlying and often invisible structure behind interactive experiences.

In the current context I am referring to "systems" in a broad sense, as a flow of interactions happening within boundaries and following certain rules. Note that when we are interacting with a system, we don't have to know the rules to abide by them – think of the laws of physics for instance. For a game designer, however, the trick is to create rules knowingly to encourage certain interactions.

Constraints make us feel free
If you look at a game, what you will see is a well-engineered system where the designer intentionally added restrictions in order to create a sensation of control. Take a famous video game like Tetris: It is comprised of a very limited set of shapes, with which you can only interact through a small amount of pre-defined actions – rotating the shapes, putting them down faster. Yet this game in extremely fun because you know exactly what you can control in this confined environment.

It makes us comfortable to think that we have control over things; having too much freedom can actually be a daunting experience. Research on consumer behaviours shows for instance that having access to too much information or too many products can create an uncomfortable choice overload (1).

“We don’t always have to give the player true freedom — we only have to give the player the feeling of freedom. For (..) all that’s real is what you feel.” -Jesse Schell, The Art of Game Design

The agency that we have in the micro-world of a game makes us feel in control, often compensating for the frustration of our everyday lives. However, agency is not liberty.

I would like to suggest a little activity that I enjoy playing myself: Next time you see a game or gamified experience, try and guess the intention of the designer that can be traced in the "methods of indirect control", as Schell would put it (constraints, goals, interfaces, etc.). Like every system, the teleology of game systems can be perceived, when we take a close look at the rules that guide interactions.


(1) See for example the work of Sheena Iyengar on the notion of choice.


GWN Fall Congress

11:37 AM Joanna Ioannidou 0 Comments

Saturday, 3 October at the Impact Hub in Amsterdam, we welcomed five speakers and a room full of attendees to our second Gamification World Netherlands Congress. The talks ranged from behavior change through gamification to the gamification in entrepreneurship.

We began shortly after 10:45, and Adam Lobel from Radboud University was the first to take the stage. He shared his insights from both his studies and work regarding the psychological benefits of gaming, and how these can be utilized when designing games for mental health. His presentation included clips from Mindlight, a full-fledged biofeedback game he helped develop, which encourages children to face their fears and manage the feelings of anxiety these evoke.

Following Adam, was Jordin van Deyl of Next Level Gamification. Because he is experienced in both gamification and entrepreneurship, he was able to share the benefits of gamifying business. Jordin shared his experience with designing a gamified platform aimed at battling youth unemployment, and highlighted one of his new projects, which focuses on helping startups in setting up their business through a gamified system. Even though he took no claim to being an expert in a room of experts, he was certainly knowledgeable on his topic.

Christine Fountain with began her presentation with a… game! The audience was asked to write down the key words and/or phrases that they associate with play, and then deliver the answers to her in the form of paper planes. With these answers as a starting point, Christine discussed the major aspects she sees defining games and gamification. Her talk also included a glimpse into an app she had been working on and was designed to bring romantic partners together and communicate their feelings (the app was inspired by research presented in the book Hold me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson).

Melion van Abs took the stage after lunch and shared his experience of working on gamification projects for contact business centers. Using his work experience as a starting point, Melion engaged the audience in open discussion about the use of gamification internally in businesses and organizations. He showcased examples of his work with companies such as Knab and Webhelp to talked about how you can use gamification practices in engaging employees and helping companies meet their goals of increasing efficiency.

Closing the talks for the day, Egbert Boertien stood up to talk about children, education and gamification. After the recent success of his collaboration in the Game Jam at the UPRISE Festival, he brought a series of photos to showcase how a group of kids worked together with industry experts to develop their own game. Egbert also represented pi-Dock, a school concept about using play in learning and creating a more dynamic learning environment.

The event was, as expected, a success. We had a great time and appreciated the support of the audience and the speakers who took time out of their weekend to participate in our event. Thank you to the speakers, the attendees, Van Ness Cupcake for the tasty cupcakes, Cora for the delicious sandwiches, and Lazy Shutter for his amazing photos!

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Are video games the drugs of the new generation?

5:23 PM Unknown 0 Comments

I would like to give a heads-up that this is an opinion piece. I wrote this based on my own experiences and background in psychology. I will leave it up to you, the reader, to choose your own view on the matter.

On the 3rd of august I came across a newspaper article in "AD - Utrechts Dagblad". The headline read: "Addiction - hundreds of game addicted youths end up in rehabilitation-clinic", and my first thought was: "This is ****shit"...

Let me start with a quick summary of the article. It tells the story of Daniël. His situation at home is described as "not always the best", and he would be often hiding in his room playing games. The article quotes Daniël explaining that games made him feel at ease and allowed him to leave his worries behind, so more and more he took this way out when things got hard. At first everything was well, as he could combine his gaming with school, friends and he even played in a band. But then matters took a turn, and as the author states his "hobby" became his "addiction".

Now what interests me are the problems he had at home. His girlfriend had an unplanned pregnancy; soon after he started showing up late to work, came up with excuses not to meet friends and stopped studying. Then, the way I see it this boy did not need help with his addiction, he needed help in his personal life! I find again and again that healthcare focusses on treating symptoms instead of the root cause. Gaming was not the problem for Daniël, his troubles at home were. If he had not had games to turn to, he would have found another way to vent or escape. Maybe drugs. Maybe alcohol.  In my opinion, there is no difference to taking a bottle of whisky and getting wasted, the goal is the same: escape.

Media often puts video games in a bad light, and there are many articles like this that rub me the wrong way. Who has not heard about the controversy concerning violence in video games and how they supposedly make kids more violent? The potential of games in general is often misunderstood. Let me give you one great example... God games are games where the actions of the player impact a virtual world - think of ecosystems, economies or the lives of generations of NPCs (non-player characters). These games are a great way to learn and experiment, and give players a new way of looking at their own behaviour and its influence on everyone’s future.

It is my hope that people will see the truth behind games and their hidden potential to better the lives of everyone, instead of simply blaming this (relatively new) and for many unknown concept to grab readers attention with catchy headlines.