Octalysis, Suicide, and Ready Player One

I'm about 75% of the way through Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which is a fantastic read, whether you're interested in gamification, 80's culture, cyberpunk, or just outright enjoyable storytelling.  Quick background: the year is 2044 and Earth is a shambles.  Most people spend a huge portion of their time in the OASIS, a virtual reality simulation that has essentially replaced Internet.  For many people, OASIS has almost replaced reality.

The crux of the story is a competition: be the first to solve a series of puzzles and unlock the hidden gates and you'll inherit the billions of dollars estate left by OASIS creator James Halliday.  A megacorporation which wants to own the OASIS has an army of players (referred to as "Sixers") using all manner of nefarious methods to win the contest and claim OASIS for itself.  They'll even murder the real-life contestants to stay ahead. 

The traditional players, many of whom grew up in the virtual environment, are referred to as "gunters."  Though they all enter the contest with a primary goal of winning the money (CD4: Ownership) they quickly develop an even higher purpose: protect the prize from the Sixers and keep the OASIS free.  (CD1: Epic Meaning.)  It's the old story of "don't sell out to The Man" magnified a million times, and with the twist that The Man is willing to cheat, steal and kill to win.

What fascinated me at this point in the book is the depth to which the main character (and he's not alone) has become immersed in his Epic Meaning attachment.  In fact, by the 75% mark (damn you, Amazon, for not having page numbers) Parzival's motivation seems to have dropped CD4 almost entirely.  How can you tell?  In a moment of doubt he realizes it's possible that the Sixers could win.  He methodically plans his suicide in case that's how the contest ends.

Sure, it's fiction, but it's certainly not a fiction-only scenario.  It's a very believable portrayal of the sense that "my epic calling was so profound that I simply can't exist without it."  Using Octalysis as a framework, the significant thing here is that the investment in Epic Meaning is so great that loss of it overcomes Avoidance of death, which is generally a very strong motivator.

There are some obvious non-fiction applications here.  Suicide prevention comes to mind immediately.  A suicidal person is clearly "missing" a natural occurrence of our CD8; avoidance of death is almost always reflexive in human beings.  This makes me wonder if a suicide hotline or a therapist could benefit from understanding Octalysis.  Whether it's a crisis situation or something a bit more relaxed, Octalysis might help understand the person more thoroughly and quickly.  As in Ready Player One did the patient lose a core motivator that was so strong, nothing else seems to matter?  Does she totally lack CD1 motivators?  (Is having some kind of CD1 motivation a prerequisite for wanting to live?)  Is it possible to mitigate the suicidal tendencies by bolstering a range of other motivators? 

I expect that counselors and hot line volunteers do quite a bit along that last line naturally, but here I'm differentiating by considering a conscious application of Octalysis and potentially implementing specific Game Techniques.  I'd love to see that in action; it would certainly be one of the best uses of Octalysis I can imagine.


Gaming My Team, Part 1: Context and Launch

For quick reference, this is a project inspired by Yu-kai Chou's book, Actionable Gamification.  For a bit longer reference, go get yourself a copy of Actionable Gamification and read it for yourself.  Trust me, it's well worth the time.

Though most of the book focuses on consumer and marketing applications of Octalysis, Yu-kai talks a lot about gamification of workplaces and clearly has an even greater passion for gamification of life.  I think his observations about the way companies typically try to motivate employees are very insightful.  I'm going to build a gamification strategy using his Yu-kai's techniques and try to improve my team's performance as a team and individuals, as well as each person's enjoyment of his or her work.

My first step will be using the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard to develop an overall plan.  (But if you're going to take my advice and learn about Octalysis yourself, don't start with that link.  Go instead to the official Start Here, and/or pick up a copy of Actionable Gamification.  And incidentally, though I've quickly become an avid student, I'm just that -- Mr. Chou doesn't know me and I'm not a sales representative.  Now that I've given the context for my project, I won't keep telling you to buy his book.)

Here are some background bullets about my team:

  • There will be at least 6 team members involved.

  • Each individual is 30 to 50 years old.

  • Each one has worked in a corporate environment for at least five years, and they'll all been with our company for at least five years.

  • Their work has a very technical focus, and each person is a specialist in a technical discipline.

  • The team is part of a larger organization (about 75 people) who all work together to the benefit of internal stakeholders in a company of ~100,000 people.

I've written a set of interview questions to gain some insight in formulating the strategy, but more on that later.

Today I'm focused on some general principles I'm considering for the exercise:

  1. It must be clear to the participants that this game has no impact on performance reviews, financial rewards, etc.  It's not an HR-sponsored exercise, so I'll have to explicitly specify that rewards in the game are not directly related to performance reviews.

  2. Despite General Principle #1, the desired actions and outcomes of the game should be aligned with desired actions in our day to day work.

  3. The win-state is not an accumulation of more "points" than the other participants.  Though I haven't finalized my Strategy Dashboard, a key characteristic of the win-state is that each individual will have developed more intrinsic motivation than pay checks and avoidance of job loss when performing daily work.

  4. As this is a team, not a workgroup, the game should include investment in other people's success.

  5. If any team member feels uncomfortable with the "game," he/she must have the ability to opt out.

More to come, including the development of my Strategy Dashboard and some thoughts on Miracle League Baseball.


Gamifying My Daily Run

I have a rule about running: I don't run without music.  Unlike bicycling, running for the sake of running holds no pleasure for me.  If my headphones are broken or Spotify won't work and I don't have a handy MP3 player, I'm not running.  I'm talking about running for exercise, of course. I will run without music if I'm being chased by a bear, an ex-Nazi dentist, or the giant incarnation of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.  Though in the case of the latter I'd probably be part of a montage and thus, there would be music.

This practice began long before I grew interested in Octalysis, but it was an obvious subject for analysis once I read Yu-kai Chou's Actionable Gamification.  (The first time.)   The primary Core Drivers motivating my running are pretty obvious: I run so that I'll be healthier and look better.  Looking fit is the easy one; CD#5: Social Influence.  I think being healthier is most commonly CD#8: Avoidance (hopefully avoidance of young death) but I also like to think of it as being somewhat on the White Hat side of CD#4: Ownership.  I.e., I wish to possess a long life.  With White Hat's propensity for driving long-term results, I feel that viewing the motivation through the CD#4 lens rather than CD#8 might be a better choice. 

(That little theory alone tempts me to sign up for Premium option on yukaichou.com, since I'd like to know what Yuk-kai thinks of that concept and might be able to ask him during office hours.  But I'm digressing here.)

Now that I'm well in the habit of running I also run for the challenge: I used to struggle to run one mile without feeling like I'd collapse.  Then it was two, then three.  I constantly have that urge to "be able to run just a little bit more," despite not feeling like I ENJOY running.   (Incidentally, I feel this way about eating spinach, too.)  As soon as I feel like I've hit a comfort level with one distance, I'm pushing for the next.  CD#2: Accomplishment.

But here's what I think is the really fun part of the game.  Remember the music I mentioned?  I almost always use a Spotify play list when I run, and that list contains some of my favorite songs.  As a rule, I don't listen to them any time other than when I'm running.  Aha!  CD#6: Scarcity.  Also, I vary my route every single day.  Why?  Because I use a Microsoft Band to track my running, and it buzzes my wrist at every mile.  I don't want to know exactly where it's going to happen because then I'll be training my body to hit only the immediate goal, not the stretch goals.  Variation of the route, CD#7: Unpredictability.

I realize these are both Black Hat motivations, but I don’t see any problem with that.  The desired action here is not to make me run for an extra three hours on any given day, the goal is to make each run a bit more enjoyable, so that tomorrow I'll feel like I want to run again.  The short term Black Hat motivators do that pretty well.

There are a few more elements to this game.  My Spotify play list tends to include only songs with a title or theme related to running.  Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, Starship's Run Away, Bon Jovi's Runaway, etc.  Michael Jackson with Don't Stop is making an appearance this week, too.  (And I admit, The Village People somehow snuck in there with Macho Man.)  Since I try to regulate my pace such that my heart rate stays in a particular zone, I also look for songs with a beat to match my stride.  (Saga's On The Loose was the first of these.  A live version, great guitar solo.)  These little mechanics around compiling the song list are quite fun to me and I'll actually muse about other songs to add while I'm running.  CD#3: Empowerment of Creativity. 

And let's hit one last motivator while I'm at it.  I like to share my playlists with other runners and see theirs, which is very obviously CD#5.

There you have it, my first attempt at some Octalysis Core Drive analysis.  Not a game design, of course, and I didn't even touch on actual Game Techniques, but it was certainly a fun and worthwhile exercise.  Thanks Yu-kai!