Originally, the definition of gamification is related to the application of game elements to non-leisure contexts, as a design process. Each day, “gamified” (I prefer the term “gameful”) applications are developed through simply implementing badges, points and rewards, which can become a problem if not well-designed. It can be transformed into something really forced or fake that people will drop as soon as they are not interested anymore. The “human” element can’t be overlooked in this process, particularly because we are dealing with motivation. And motivation is situated in a context.

Motivational affordances can be related to the object and to a situation or context. Because of that, it’s necessary to understand what is the context which will be transformed by people through gameful experiences. Previous research regarding gamification has brought to the conversation concepts of culture and beliefs, as rituals and festivals as forms of play. However, this is not the point. I’m not getting into the discussion about gameful x playful, but social norms are something to pay attention while designing gameful (or gamified) applications.

The psychology of crowds is a research filed that encompasses music festivals, sports events and even protests. The main discussion of this aspect is related to relatedness and the feeling of being “united”, especially through positive relationships with people. In this context, it’s possible to highlight even less competitiveness and more ability to deal with difficult situations. But what does it have to do with gameful experiences? Well, previous research has argued that playing with people is better than playing alone. Now imagine if you could transform a whole rock n’ roll concert into a mega MMORG gameplay to help disabled people, for example? It’s like getting into a queue just because everyone is there – and that happens a lot in places like Brazil for example (we love queues). My point here is that crowds have power. People have the power – yes! And we could do great things with that.

The great concept of the psychology of crowds is that they tend to be heterogeneous or homogeneous, but yet organised. Gustave Le Bon (2009) introduced the concept of psychology of crowds and he argued that nationality, traditions and institutions compose the beliefs of the crowds. It is a way to say that they become like “communities”. In the digital world, it is kind of easy to see the influence of this human phenomenon: we have crowd funding and communities in social networks. But as a psychological tool, the crowds could be very persuasive. Crowds don’t exist just by themselves. They have leaders, they share ideas and beliefs. Everything is meaningful.

Another concept presented by Le Bon (2009) is that crowds have leaders. And those leaders started as followers. They confirm those beliefs and values, repeat and keep sharing and spreading, in a cycle of contagion. The idea of leaders is not as authority. I think that what the author meant by it is that it helps to keep some “organisation”. However, in my point of view and in gameful worlds, this needs to be studied. If people will follow leaders, it’s necessary to understand what they mean to people. What is the sentiment that they evoke? What are they representing?

Taking back to gameful applications, it is possible that doing things together or being part of a group is important. This is consisted by the concept of relatedness. One might say that he/she doesn’t want to share personal things with anyone. However, the sense of belonging is not only represented by sharing things. This could be represented by other ways, such as strong beliefs, for example, or food. One example is, I’m Brazilian and even I see something written in Brazilian Portuguese when I’m off my country, I will feel part of that group – even not being physically in the group. It is necessary to expand this sense of belonging.

How can design explore this? And how can gameful environments reflect or create those crowds? It is possible that the reflections of Le Bon could be amplified into gameful worlds. Again, I will leave the thoughts with you :)

If you want to read more and expand this idea:
Le Bon, G. (2009). Psychology of crowds. Sparkling Books.
Connell, J. P., & Wellborn, J. G. (1991). Competence, autonomy, and relatedness: A motivational analysis of self-system processes.
Shi, L., Cristea, A. I., Hadzidedic, S., & Dervishalidovic, N. (2014). Contextual Gamification of Social Interaction–Towards Increasing Motivation in Social E-learning. In Advances in Web-Based Learning–ICWL 2014 (pp. 116-122). Springer International Publishing.
AlMarshedi, A., Wills, G. B., Wanick, V., & Ranchhod, A. (2015). SGI: A Framework for Increasing the Sustainability of Gamification Impact.

photo credit: Rush hour at the metro via photopin (license)

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