Tag Archives: Gamification

Technology, Stories and Learning

As you may know I’m an instructional designer by trade, one of those people who creates the eLearning and training you all have to sit through at work. Also, if you’re here reading my blog then I assume that you know that I am also deeply in love with games that tell a great story!

In a professional capacity, I recently attended the UKs largest learning and skills convention, Learning Technologies 2014. Throughout the day I went to several of the seminars that caught my eye. Two on gamification and one on an eLearning course about story telling skills. I have to be honest, I wasn’t massively impressed by any of these seminars, but they all gave me time to think a little about story-telling in games, and later about story-telling in learning.

Gamification is rapidly becoming common-place throughout the business world and it’s begun to show its face in the eLearning sector too. However, gamification isn’t the holy-grail, nor is it the answer to everything that ails your learning content. You need to use gamification with caution and exercise restraint when you do. You must always balance what a business needs against what’s actually good for the learner!

I’ve heard it said that stories are one of the many elements that you can find in the gamification toolkit. I disagree with that concept on a fundamental level and would strongly urge people to think of gamification as nothing but a tool in your storytelling toolkit. After all, some of our favourite games are based entirely around a story. The game elements and mechanics work together to deliver and present that story to all who will listen! However, that said, this blog post isn’t about gamification or the merits of its use, that’s a topic for another day. This post is all about stories.

For the last three years I’ve been following the blog of Cathy Moore, an excellent instructional designer, who has a lot to say about the use of scenarios in a learning context. Why do I mention this?

Well… What’s a scenario if it’s not a story?

And what makes a story successful?

The answer to that second question’s simple! It’s all about the emotional engagement or investment!! If your story doesn’t evoke feeling and engage the reader then how can you hope for it to be remembered?


During my time at the Learning Technologies conference I began wondering how I could use stories to promote learning. Not just a short scenario that illustrates a single point, but a full blown narrative, a story that evolves with the learners understanding. I thought carefully about how I learn to play a game. How I absorb abstract concepts and adapt my own behaviour to fit within the constraints of the game itself. I thought back to the different rule books that I’ve read over the years, hundreds of them if we’re counting. Some of these books were good, with excellent examples. Others were terrible, filled with confusion and errors. But ultimately, at the heart of every game, there is a rule book that teaches players to drive the mechanics that ultimately deliver the story.

I don’t really want to stray into the realms of discussing serious games or, more accurately, learning games. So, with that in mind, I’ve thrown together some thoughts on how someone who creates learning could go about constructing a story for an intervention. Here’s a handful of tips that I came up with for starting to think about your own learning stories:

  1. Work with subject matter experts (SMEs) directly – Don’t just ask them the same old tried and tested questions! That just leads to stagnation! Ask them about their feelings on certain subjects.
    Is there a particularly difficult task?
    How does it make them feel?
    How should it make the learner feel?
    See if you can include some of their personal experiences in the story that you’re building. This will help you build rapport with them and they may even provide you with some story-telling gold.
  2. Keep the story relevant to the learner – Why does the learner care about what you’re teaching them? Appeal to the learner’s intrinsic motivations if at all possible. Simply saying that they will be motivated to learn because it’s part of their job doesn’t count… Whether your employer believes it or not, work necessity is usually an extrinsic motivation, the learner is being forced to care, and therefore is unlikely to actually care on an emotional level.
    Take for example a company who wants to reduce the number of accidents at work because they may soon face financial repercussions. Do the workers ultimately care about the repercussions that management have to deal with? Probably not, in fact, they most likely care more about themselves and their co-workers.
    So, with that in mind, start creating a story that’s based around an accident. Highlight the personal physical risks and explain what they could do to their colleagues if they don’t act responsibly. Once you’ve got them emotionally invested in the idea, reveal the big picture consequences. Perhaps the company is fined for its accident record. After paying the fine they can no longer afford to operate the business and take the decision to shut up shop. The result? Unemployment!
    What you put into the story is up to you, but don’t be afraid to tap in to the way people think, what they like, or what they fear. But a word to the wise, be sensitive!
  3. Start small and build up to a grand finale – I once heard that a person will only remember the best bit of a course, the worst bit, and the very last bit. So let’s make sure that the last thing we show them makes it worth waiting for. Of course don’t just try and cram everything in at the end, no-one likes a brain dump.
  4. Do not be afraid of comedy – There’s a fine balance between funny and cringe-worthy. But, even so, if you can make your learners laugh you’ll be giving them a small dose of endorphins. Yes you heard it here first, try and make your learners happy!
    Forget the teachers of the past who believed that you weren’t in school to have fun.
    News flash!!! There’s nothing in the world that says you can’t have fun whilst learning!
  5. Involve and engage the learner – Don’t be afraid to personalise your story, to bring the learner deeper into the world that you’re creating for them. If you can get your courses to pull the learners names from your learning management system then even better! Address important questions to the learner directly. For example, in a first aid scenario have someone asking the learner for help.
    “Tom! Help me lift this weight off of his leg!”
    Of course, in this scenario you probably wouldn’t want to lift that weight in case the victim had a crush injury. If you lift it and circulation resumes then you may release toxins back into his body and outright kill him. But in a learning solution it’s OK, “no people were hurt in the making of this story” and it’s one hell of a memorable lesson for those that didn’t know about crush injuries.
    “Who lifted this off of him? Was it you Tom? My God! You’ve killed him!”
    Remember though! Don’t trick your learners into doing things wrong, let them make their own mistakes, let them fail, but never trick them.

Anyway, that’s five little tips for coming up with your own stories to enhance your learning content. I’m not an author of fiction and I won’t pretend that I can provide you with all the guidance you’ll need. But I do hope that I’ve been able to provide something here that will be of use to you in your future stories! Don’t forget though, if you’re developing a game and want to work on a story for it, then you can just as easily apply the five tips to that too. In fact, for any game developer reading this, I highly recommend reading up on some instructional design principles before you start out writing your all-important rule book!

Gromit Unleashed – A Geeks View

Super Gromit
Well it’s been a great summer here in Bristol, UK. For the first time in ages we’ve had some amazing weather which actually lasted long enough to be worth talking about. However, the heat and sunshine aren’t the only things that people have been talking about, Oh no! The big buzz in Bristol this summer has been all about an event called Gromit Unleashed!

Throughout the summer months eighty beautifully decorated Gromit statues have been located in various places across Bristol. The challenge? To locate each and every one of these beautiful works of art within ten weeks.

Leading with a slogan of “80 Gromits, 10 weeks, 1 city” the campaign kicked off on July 1st 2013 to great public interest. By the end of July Gromit Unleashed sculptures had already been visited by over 100,000 people and the small exhibition inside the Gromit Unleashed shop at The Mall Cribbs Causeway was seeing an average of 2,000 visitors a day.

The figures alone sound pretty impressive, but what was it all in aid of?

The extremely successful event was organised to raise money for Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Appeal, the Bristol Children’s Hospital Charity.

“The Bristol Royal Hospital for Children is a world-class centre of excellence – one of just seven children’s hospitals in the UK equipped and able to offer specialist treatment and lifesaving care to over 100,000 sick and critically ill babies and children every year.”

So, by supporting the event thousands of people have been out showing their support for one of the country’s top child care units. I can’t think of a better reason to join in with the fun than that!

Personally, I started hunting Gromits the day after the event launched and I have to say It’s been a totally brilliant experience for me and all those who took part. I was overjoyed to find and photo my eightieth Gromit earlier this month when the organisers moved him from London Paddington back to its home here Bristol. I was even lucky enough to locate and snap a shot of the elusive Feathers McGraw, the Penguin cat-burglar who dresses as a chicken! The organisers moved this little guy around the city several times during the campaign and provided a little hint or tip as to his location via their Twitter feed.

Unfortunately the main hunt has now finished and over the past four days all eighty Gromits were reunited to form the “Greatest Dog Show on Earth” exhibition. The exhibition has been so popular that organisers have had to extend the opening hours way beyond their original expectations. Sunday morning even saw fans queuing from 4AM!

However, despite still experiencing very high demand, the exhibition has sadly ended in order to make way for the next stage of the campaign. The eighty delightful dogs are now heading off for a good groom in preparation for a Gromit Unleashed auction being held on October 3rd 2013. All eighty works of art are to be auctioned off to eighty lucky bidders in order to raise yet more money for this amazing cause. I really do hope that there’s people out there with very large wallets waiting to snap up these beautiful pieces.

The main hunt may well have finished, but those of you who are interested in placing a bid or reading more about the campaign can take a look at the Gromit Unleashed site or donate to Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Appeal by visiting the Grand Appeal site.

So, now that you’ve read about the campaign, I guess some of you might be wondering why I’ve put this post up on my otherwise game-related blog. The answer to this is two-fold. Firstly I want to help spread the word about the great work that’s been done here and, secondly, I wanted to highlight the amazing use of Gamification throughout such a large-scale public campaign.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about Gamification in this post; that would take a several posts which I’m thinking of doing over the coming weeks. Here, I just want to call out the fact that the Gromit Unleashed campaign employed several game elements to great effect, using them to drive interest and increase footfall.

From what I could see, when you break the campaign down there were three main elements or goals.
1. Raise money for charity.
2. Provide a social/public event for the people of Bristol.
3. Increase tourism and business within Bristol.

Without a shadow of a doubt this campaign achieved all three of these things, but how did it do it? The simple answer is Gamification and good marketing!

For starters, the organisers advertised and promoted the event all over the city, if you lived in Bristol it was likely that you knew about the hunt before it even started. Once people knew about it all the organisers needed to do was keep them interested. This is where the gamification comes in!
Taking game elements and applying them to this real-world, non-game context the organisers were able to hook into basic human emotions and needs.

First up we have the very nature of the main event, a form of set collection. In order to see the entire trail exhibition you had to go out there and find each and every one of the eighty Gromits. People, by nature, like to collect things and in general they like to have a complete set. Just think back to Pokemon with its “Gotta catch them all” slogan and the popularity of the subsequent games.

Secondly, the organisers included technology in their campaign. Creating a Gromit Unleashed App was a brilliant move. This simple, inexpensive app provided iPhone users with another way to become involved or engrossed in the Gromit Unleashed campaign. It also raised further money for the charity from the sales.

How does this relate to gamification you may ask? Well, when you downloaded the App it provided some of the most common elements seen within a gamified solution. Avatars and Achievements.

The avatar played a lesser role in the overall Gromit Unleashed App letting you select a Gromit image and your name which was then used to report your achievements back to the public website for everyone to see.

As I mentioned earlier, once you have the public’s interest you have to keep it. If you don’t offer people choices or goals then the repetitive hunt for yet another statue would soon grow tiresome. You also have to offer them a hand if things get too hard. If something seems too hard to someone then they will soon become bored. Likewise, if it’s too easy then they will also become bored. The Gromit Unleashed achievements seem to have balanced this with great skill!

Achievements were given out for completing a variety of goals such as locating a certain number of Gromits, finding a set of specific Gromits, or even hunting down the Gromit of the day. This all tied in nicely with the Gromit check list that enabled you to check off each statue as you found it. Throw in a little GPS magic for locating those hard to find statues and voila, a system that guides you through the whole trail, offers incentives to carry on, and provides a helping hand when times are hard. Beautiful!

When I first started out on my hunt for Gromits I rapidly became impressed with the use of gamified elements. I marvelled at how simple it all seemed and quietly wondered how many people realised exactly how much thought would have gone into creating such a finely balanced campaign. The organisers have done a great thing here in Bristol, not just great for the charity, or logistically great, but technically great too. They have a lot to be proud of and I tip my cap to them.