4 Psychology Books To Help You Create Meaningful Gamification Experiences

Using Psychology Books To Create Meaningful Gamification Experiences

Gamification goes beyond digital point rewards and leaderboard ranks. It’s actually grounded in psychological concepts like motivation. Still, the idea of turning an activity such as serious learning into an engaging game is controversial. Gamification Consultancy -Gamified UK- for example, faulted gamification’s use of extrinsic rewards. So, how does one gamify a task without causing users to adopt undesirable behaviors like overjustification? How can gamifying tasks create meaningful gamification experiences in education?

Successful consumer products achieve this by use of internal triggers. Nir Eyal’s book Hooked explains that once technology creates an association in our minds, we need fewer external prompts to use it. Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, on the other hand, suggest the design of choice environments to influence people to make beneficial decisions.

By understanding the weaknesses of your users’ decision-making habits, it’s thus possible to reduce the use of motivation traps in gamification.

Some of the questions that these books tackle include:

  • How can you incorporate sound psychological concepts in product design?
  • How do users form habits? And how can you change them?
  • How can you make users stop depending on cognitive familiarity instead of actual reasoning when making decisions?

1. Nudge - Richard Thaler Αnd Cass Sunstein

People make decisions all the time. Unfortunately, they’re poor at it. Nudge attributes this shortcoming to the profound effect of bias on decision-making.

That’s why Thaler and Sunstein invite the reader to learn choice architecture. Although they insist on letting people make their own decisions, they suggest the design of environments that point users towards favorable decisions. In short, the authors campaign for the adoption of libertarian paternalism.

The authors argue that simple nudges like presenting good options first serve to effect sensible choices. Similarly, enrolling users by default in activities that contribute to their long-term goals creates a behavioral advantage for them.

Still, it’s possible to use nudges in gamification. One case that stands out is the authors’ example of painting bees in the urinals of Schiphol International Airport, Amsterdam. The paintings served as targets that motivated men to aim inside the urinal bowls thus reducing spillage.

The initiative gamified a mundane activity leading to reduced cleaning costs while encouraging the proper use of public facilities. Likewise, good gamification design should aim to make beneficial choices fun.

2. Hooked - Nir Eyal

Even though extrinsic motivating techniques have had their fair share of bad press in gamification, Hooked considers using external triggers an important part of making users associate with your product.

The book, however, drew a distinction between how external and internal triggers lead to habit-forming. It advises designers to provide external motivations to get users interested in their products when they first start using them.

Hooked by Nir Eyal

Once users carry out the required actions, the developers should provide rewards. With increased interest (i.e. self-investment) in the user experience, the author argues that users will start forming their own internal motivations that keep them hooked.

Thus, the 4 factors that constitute the “hook” are:

  • Triggers (external and internal).
  • Action.
  • Variable rewards.
  • Investment. 

When applied to an early user of a service, such as Pinterest, examples of the hook factors are:

  • External triggers: A re-direct from Facebook or Twitter.
  • Action: Scrolling through content like videos and images.
  • Variable rewards: The fun of discovering interesting content.
  • Investment: Commenting and “re-pinning.”

With continued use, however, the Pinterest user develops new habits:

  • External triggers: A notification from Pinterest.
  • Action: Logging in to act on the notifications.
  • Variable rewards: Checking friends’ posts in addition to  discovering new content.
  • Investment: Installing the Pin It buttons and pinning own content.
  • Internal triggers: Using to Pinterest to kill time or learn how to curate content that attracts followers.

Applying the hooked model in gamification is simple. By getting people to use your product more frequently, for example, you could influence them to form new habits that help them avoid cognitive dissonance.

3. The Power Οf Habit - Charles Duhigg

Can individuals form new habits? Can they also unlearn poor habits? According to Charles Duhigg, that’s a yes and a yes. The premise behind The Power of Habit is straightforward — if you do something enough times, it will become a habit.

power of habit

The book explains that habits form in a loop of cues, routines, and rewards. Take smoking cigarettes, for example. Most smokers light up when they’re stressed. Stress acts as the signal to smoke. Thus, smoking when stressed becomes a routine. And the “relief” that smoking provides during stressful times is the reward that smokers enjoy.

The tobacco smoking analogy might not be the best habit example, but it does an excellent job in showing which behavioral components gamification can focus on.

But let’s take a look at leaderboards in schools, for instance. They give students the cue to work harder when they start scoring lower marks. The competitive aspect is motivational. And the bragging rights that come with the reward of top scores can encourage student engagement.

Thus, the use of gamification in educational environments proves what Duhigg suggests: Change of routine can lead to a change of habits.

4. Thinking, Fast Αnd Slow - Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman’s book studies the thought processes that inform decision-making. He divides thinking into two parts: the fast and the slow process.

He, however, apportions the blame on biased, faulty thinking for the poor choices people make. He argues that intuition (or fast thinking) is responsible for the bulk of our reactions. Hence, it’s the basis for habit-forming. When individuals deliberately take more time to think things through, they become better decision-makers.

Moreover, when used in teaching, gamification can empower students to learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills. And people skills, such as collaboration and empathy.

Yet, it’s easy to think of gamification as a tool for simplified learning. But, by designing it on proven psychological theories, it has the potential of becoming a substantive behavioral change agent.

These 4 books provide the background to decision-making habits and the framing of choices. And that’s a good starting point for effective gamification.

Close