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Improve Training Experiences with Simple Game Mechanics

I might be showing my age here, but I grew up loving the Choose Your Own Adventure books. If you know what I’m talking about, you probably felt a subtle smile creep across your lips just now. For those who need a quick refresher, here’s the gist:

  • You read a few pages in the book to become oriented with the main character….your character.

  • Eventually (and throughout the book), you’re presented with two actions.

  • You must choose one action to take based on what you think your character would do in the given situation.

  • Based on the action you choose, you’re prompted to turn to a specific page.

  • You continue reading and learn the consequences of your actions.

  • If you make enough wise choices, you complete the adventure successfully and your character survives.

  • If you make too many poor choices, the story abruptly ends and your character fails or dies. (oops)

I loved that you couldn’t just read through the book in a linear path. It just wouldn’t make sense if you did. And though I didn’t recognize it at the time, the geniuses behind this book series understood how bits and pieces of game theory and game mechanics could be re-interpreted from traditional role-playing and board games and infused into books.

Fast forward to today and you see a similar revolution happening through streaming apps and on network TV. Game mechanics are being used in Netflix movies like Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch or enhancing a network TV viewer’s experience on shows like Ellen’s Game of Games.

So it begs the question (and you get to choose the answer): can you do something similar with your training experiences?

No, I don’t think gamification can crossover to training.


Yes, of course gamification and training can work together!


[You chose NO]

Not quite the answer we were hoping for. We won’t kill off your character entirely, though. You get an extra life! [KEEP SCROLLING]

[You chose YES]

Of course you can bring game mechanics into your training experiences (and you don’t have to hold massive TV or movie budgets to do it, either)!

Implementing some basic game mechanics like Choice, for example, simply gives the participant a feeling of control over their experience, and thus, boosts engagement. When you layer a Countdown mechanic on top of the Choice mechanic, you create additional tension for the participant. This can be good or bad depending on how you’re applying the mechanics, but in the case of the Bandersnatch movie, these two mechanics resulted in the viewer having to make a time-based, forced choice decision that would ultimately impact the character’s journey.

The mechanics at play here are simple, much like those in the Choose Your Own Adventure books, but the level of engagement is exponential when compared to a more traditional format where the participant is simply an observer.

The companion app that enhances the viewer experience on Ellen’s Game of Games brings many more mechanics to the forefront, but each challenge or game thoughtfully applies the various mechanics so that the experience is simple, yet enjoyable for participants.

And that’s a key message for you to

While it’s tempting to combine all sorts of game mechanics together, simpler is often better.

Why? Overly-complex gamified experiences are a turn off. If participants have to think too hard about all of the rules and dependencies in an interaction, it’s less likely they’ll experience success and the dopamine release that comes along with it.

Your training programs, whether instructor-led or digital, can be gamified. You may need a little help and guidance to think through it, but it’s achievable with a little strategy and forethought.

As a kid, I marveled at the application of game mechanics in books. I never imagined a day when I’d see them applied to TV, but those days are here. In retrospect, I see that the same mechanics are at play behind the scenes. The medium may change, but the tricks of the trade are still the same.

There’s no reason why you can’t innovate your training programs using some tried and true game mechanics, especially if you have someone to help you sort it out.


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