MONDAY 28 MAR 2022 10:00 AM


Vanita Tanna, director of UX at design and technology agency Rufus Leonard, explores how to encourage people to play with purpose and to enjoy failure, to increase the staying power of behavioural change.

Gamification – incorporating gaming and behavioural change tactics such as challenge setting into nongame environments – is a compelling mechanic to engage people with your brand. But unlike games that are governed by a set of rules for participants, with winners, losers and a completion end goal, gamification to inspire behavioural change seeks to change a person in real life over time. It’s a flexible long game. 

Prioritise purpose and goals

Purpose. The most important factor in successfully changing human behaviour. Without purpose, without first understanding why, and without believing in what the change stands for, there will be little sustained motivation. From fitness and health, to learning, productivity, or saving the planet – whether it be for individual or societal good, or both – gamification relies on setting goals.

There are two main rules in goal setting for behavioural change. Firstly: all goals must be aligned with purpose. Secondly: although we must keep setting goals, we must also prioritise them. Otherwise, humans will become overwhelmed, directionless, and ultimately discouraged.

Nurture failure

Humans hate to fail. We struggle with change even if it’s self-selected. Couple this discomfort with the emotions of change, and behavioural change becomes a long game. Even neuroscientists like Allan Schore, Dan Siegal and Daniel Stern have shown how missteps create physical brain adaptation, and how ‘rupture and repair’ helps re-build brain pathways and cause changes in the orbitofrontal cortex.

In short: micro failures are essential for long-standing behavioural change. To succeed, gamification should be built around emotions, with goals designed around humans failing often.

Gamify humanely

Gamification has a direct relationship with game theory. Humans make decisions that affect what’s presented or happens next. Strike the balance between setting goals challenging enough to fail, but not so unreachable that people quit, unmotivated. On the flipside, ensure goals aren’t too easy to reach – the dopamine hit of being challenged is what makes people return.

Successful gamification strategies remove human blockers and make people feel in control when really, they’re being led. Though, that’s not to say some ‘name and shame’ or negative scoring won’t spur people into action. Conversely, encouraging user partnership makes people more likely to commit and be motivated to act.

Remember, it’s not always about progress; humans need to breathe. It’s our responsibility to encourage healthy participation, plotting spaces to take a break.

Create moments of truth

Humane gamification enables humans to do a bad job and not come back for a while. Apparently, it takes 21 days to build a habit; 90 days for it to stick. That’s 90 days of potential palatable, challenging failures that we must move humans along. 90 days to turn each can’t, won’t and shouldn’t interaction into brand moments of truth (MoT).

Moments of truth in gamification are the experiences a human has pre, during and post-interaction. Wider than the impression an interaction makes, gamification MoTs depend on how the experience makes people feel in the long term. Achieve this with personalised, human-centric messages, content and interfaces that recognise failures not as errors, but human nature.

Gamification is a well-versed and rehearsed tool to encourage micro and macro behavioural change. However, sustained change through gamification will only come if it’s tied to purpose, value and reflects the human condition. Nurture failure – and the learnings from it – to encourage long-lasting human change.