Game Mechanics Study

I'm particularly interested in how game mechanics acts as a form of architecture that doesn't necessary focus on restriction, but rather stimulates specific behavior. From video games to real-world settings such as classrooms and social networks, we can be steered towards socially beneficial ends, possibly leading towards learning objectives, economic goals or to override tragedy of the commons.

Professor's Henry Jenkins on games-based learning at SXSWi 2009
The MIT Professor describes why games are great learning tools, and how new gaming paradigms can change the educational system.


Unlocking the Psychology of Achievements (9th Sept 2008) (alt source:
Based on personal experience, completionists need goals to achieve and do not enjoy open-ended game experiences. The only way that a completionist may enjoy such an experience is if they construct their own goals (i.e. maintain the top score on high score list).
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Psychology of Achievements & Trophies by Aki Jarvinen (5th March 2009)
Obviously the heart of the matter is that achievements let gamers share evidence of their skill and persistence with a game, and overall gamer status, as, e.g. the total amount of gamerpoints at Xbox Live. Thus they have to do with players' emotions of pride - 'fortunes-of-self' in terms of emotion theory. Or, with admiration and respect of others. In summary, achievements give concrete evidence for bragging rights.

The Art of Computer Game Design by Chris Crawford (Text & PDF versions, 1982)
Chapter 1 - What is a Game?
Chapter 2 - Why Do People Play Games?
Chapter 3 - A Taxonomy of Computer Games
Chapter 4 - The Computer as a Game Technology
Chapter 5 - The Game Design Sequence
Chapter 6 - Design Techniques and Ideals
Chapter 7 - The Future of Computer Games

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell (2008)
Jesse Schell takes an unusual approach to game design, an approach that focuses neither on the technological details of game development nor on the analysis of popular games. Instead, the book will propose that the most important skill for a game designer is not creativity as most suppose, but that of listening. The five kinds of listening (team, client, audience, game, and self) are shown to be backbone of all successful game design methods. These methods fall into three categories: understanding the psychology of gameplay and entertainment, using techniques from traditional disciplines in the game design, and processes for inventing new experiences that will fully engage the player. This book fully explains and compares these techniques and presents many case studies of their use. The book will contain excerpts of related writings from a wide variety of sources. Game design is far from a new art form, but rather a very old one that now, through technology, is able to successfully integrate many other art forms. A successful designer must study aspects of many other fields. To do so, one must examine the work of the masters of these fields, and the book will include excerpts from writers discussing diverse topics such as psychology, architecture, music, visual design, film, software engineering, theme park design, writing, puzzle design, and several others. These elements will give this book a sense of authority and timelessness that is currently lacking in game design books. * Jesse Schell is a highly recognisable name within the game industry - he is the former chair of the International Game Developer's Association.* 100 'lenses' are scattered throughout the book. Theseare boxed tips, showing ways of seeing a game to inspire the creative process.* 600 pages of detailed, practical instruction on creating world-class games that will be played again and again.

Fear of Failing? The Many Meanings of Difficulty in Video Games by Jesper Juul (2009)
From Mark J. P. Wolf & Bernard Perron (eds.): The Video Game Theory Reader 2. New York: Routledge 2009. pp. 237-252.
The simplest theory of failure states that failing serves as a contrast to winning, that failure thereby makes winning all the more enjoyable. There is, however, much more to failure. The study of players discussed in this essay indicates that failure serves the deeper function of making players readjust their perception of a game. In effect, failure adds content by making the player see new nuances in a game. The study shows that players have quite elaborate theories of failure as a source of enjoyment in games.

A better flow. (© 2004 Noah Falstein)
A better flow. (© 2004 Noah Falstein)

BoingBoing picked up on Jesse Schell's DICE 2010 talk, and referenced Mathias Crawford's critique on the Institute of the Future blog :

As (Carnegie Mellon professor Jesse) Schell points out (in a videotaped speechmaking the rounds this week), persuasive technologies like the Ford Fusion dashboard, are already being designed with game-like feedback in mind. To him these technologies fall short, however, because they are being engineered by people who are not game designers. If game designers would start to design reward systems that aimed to improve behaviors, we'd have feedback mechanisms that are much more enjoyable, and as a corollary that are much more effective.
Though I agree with his conclusion - that there is a clear need for people with game design expertise to design things that can help people improve behaviors - by focusing on creating technologies that aim to achieving measurable ends, Schell misses a much more important use of persuasive technologies: namely, technology that aims to influence means.
Here's the key point which Mathias feels Jesse missed out when he discussed persuasive ends...

Ends vs. Means
"the tools of persuasive technology are often used exclusively in the support of ends rather than means. A website 'tunnels' a user from browsing to purchase. A heart-rate device allows a user to self-monitor and adjust behavior based on digital output. An exercise bike conditions a rider by rewarding him with a television image when a target speed is reached. A surveillance system dissuades a knowing subject from taking the wrong action, as defined by his surveyors, through implicit threat. These techniques might produce desirableends, from the perspective of the creator or sponsor of a persuasive technology. But they do not necessarily produce desirable means." Source: Bogost, Ian. "Fine Processing." PERSUASIVE 2008. H. Oinas-Kukkonen et al. (Eds.) LNCS 5033, 2008. pp 13-22

It's wonderful. For instance, students perceive education as system to get grades, but with this notion, they can be channeled to think of broader alternatives to get better grades. Educators will have to redesign their approach to teaching to take advantage of this.

Why Twitter is addictive
Variable interval schedule of reinforcement, similar to how a jackpot machine gets us hooked. In other words, you can never truly predict when the next interesting tweet is about to arrive. From decades of empirical research, we know that behaviour that is randomly reinforced is very difficult toextinguish. This underlies – some would go so far as say to ‘explain’ – problematic gambling behaviour. Think of a fruit machine: You’ve got to keep feeding the slot with money because maybe, just maybe, the sweet reinforcement of a jackpot is around the corner. Source:

Going into variable intervals, we have...
The Grind Mystery: Escalating Reward Schedules
I’ve written before about reward schedules in games (also known as schedules of reinforcement in the psychology literature), and as many will know these are considered for the most part to have four basic kinds: fixed ratio, variable ratio, fixed interval and variable interval. (If you are unfamiliar with these terms, please follow the previous link for an explanation, given in the second set of bullet points). In the past, I’ve suggested that the levelling mechanics from RPGs (now present in a growing majority of blockbuster commercial games) can be understood as a fixed ratio schedule. But this overlooks an important question. If, as psychologists maintain, these four schedules are the basic effective forms of operant conditioning (that is, training for behaviour), why is it that the RPG levelling structure – which originated with Dungeons & Dragons – doesn’t use a fixed ratio at all, but in fact a ratio that gradually increases over iterations? For instance, a typical D&D experience point curve goes 0, 1000, 3000, 6000, 10000, 15000, 21000 etc. Let’s call this an escalating ratio schedule for convenience, or an escalating reward schedule. If psychologists are correct that the four basic schedules listed above are essentially fundamental, it seems quite anomalous that games (which are the example par excellence of reward schedules in action) should prefer an escalating schedule, and equally queer that the academic paperwork seems (as far as I have been able to ascertain) to completely overlook this form as significant.

Also see why variable interval is so powerful...

Dopamine Jackpot! Sapolsky on the Science of... by FORAtv
What reward does your brain actually seek?
Dopamine does a lot of things, but you're probably most familiar with it as the chemical your brain uses as a sort-of system of in-game gold coins. You earn the reward for certain behaviors, usually "lizard-brain" type stuff—eating a bowl of pudding, for instance, or finally making out with that cute person you've had your eye on. And, as you've probably heard, there's some evidence that we can get addicted to that burst of dopamine, and that's how a nice dessert or an enjoyable crush turns into something like compulsive eating or sex addiction. Neurologist Robert Sapolsky puts an interesting twist on this old story, though. What if it isn't the burst of dopamine that we get addicted to, but the anticipation of a burst of dopamine? It's a small distinction. But it matters, he says, if our reward system is based less on happiness than on the pursuit of happiness. For more on this, check out David Bradley's post on this video, which also links back to a more-detailed discussion of the basics of dopamine addiction.


Crossmedia (also known as Cross-Media, Cross-Media Entertainment, Cross-Media Communication) is a media property owned , service, story or experience distributed across media platforms using a variety of media forms. It refers to the journey or linkages across devices and through forms and is most evident in branded entertainment, advertising, games and quest based forms such as Alternate Reality Games where there are a range of dependencies between the media placed across devices and fragments there-of.

Co-creation is the practice of product or service development that is collaboratively executed by developers and stakeholders together. Isaac Newton said that in his great work, he stood on the shoulders of giants. Co-creation could be seen as creating great work by standing together with those for whom the project is intended.


Games For Change
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Games for Change provides support, visibility and shared resources to individuals and organizations using and designing digital games for social change. This is the primary community of practice and international nexus for those interested in making digital games about the most pressing issues of our day—from race to poverty to the environment. Members represent hundreds of organizations and include partners in the games industry, academia, nonprofit sector, local and state governments, foundations, the United Nations, and the arts. Founded in 2004, Games for Change acts as a knowledge base and resource hub to help organizations network and develop video game projects beyond their traditional expertise, and provides special assistance to foundations and nonprofits entering the field.

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Online social games such as FarmVille andHappy Island let players tend make-believe homesteads and islands. A new online site wants to take such social gaming tasks into the real world.
Armchair Revolutionary (, which launches Tuesday, adapts the features ofFacebook games such as FarmVille and social networking applications such as Foursquare to involve people in social and environmental causes. Source:

See how completing specific sets unlocks specific bonuses
See how completing specific sets unlocks specific bonuses

CheapAssGamer forum: Halo Legends Cards (FaceBook App)

Wikipedia: List of Halo media (transmedia franchise)

Lee Sheldon gives students experience points (XP) instead of just grades
Lee Sheldon gives students experience points (XP) instead of just grades

See Lee Sheldon's blog:

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. Efficiency Leaves - indicates short term efficiency. The more leaves and vines that are displayed, the more efficient you're driving.
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. Efficiency Leaves - indicates short term efficiency. The more leaves and vines that are displayed, the more efficient you're driving.

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TARGET's checkout "scoring" system
Target's checkout terminals infuses game mechanics (scoring / leaderboard) to encourage faster checkout times (via dpstyles™). Details of this system is discussed in the flickr comments .

Foursquare iPhone app
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Here's how it works: You launch the app, your phone determines your location, and you then have the option to broadcast this "news" to your friends, Twitter followers, etc. and add tips about, say, a restaurant — what to order, what table to sit at, what time to go, etc. But here's the catch: it's a game. Points are awarded every time you check in. Additional points are handed out if you do this frequently at multiple locations. Even more points are earned every time you add a new location to Foursquare's database. [via BoingBoingGadgets ]

Booyah Society
An iPhone app/game that tracks "real-life achievements", possibly weaving boring tasks (grinds) into fun activities that contribute to an implicit reputation system. Features a 3D, interactive, location-aware, self-reporting, avatar-based social network. Integrates with Twitter and Facebook. Plans include microtransactions to buy things to dress your avatar. Also see TUAW's overview. - Immersive music discovery + game mechanics
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As reviewed by's Erez Zukerman :
We've covered TheSixtyOne before, and the site has long been one of my favorite ways to discover new music online. It's chock-full of musical goodness -- including lots of Creative-Commons licensed music that can be freely downloaded. It turns music discovery into a social game and lets you "heart" songs (you only get so many hearts to give out each day, depending on your level). If others then "heart" those same songs, it means you've helped them discover good music, and you get more "reputation" points (which in turn allow you to level up and "heart" even more songs, and so on).

Glue is a service that helps you find your next favorite movie, book, music album or other every day thing. Glue shows you things that you'll like based on your personal tastes, what your friends like, and what's most popular on Glue. There's a reward mechanic in the form of stickers, points, and leaderboards (guru status).

external image logo.pngSF0
[Kevin: Reminds me of 43things, but with game mechanics emphasis and location-based tasks]
SFZero is a Collaborative Production Game. Players build characters by completing tasks for their groups and increasing their Score. The goals of play include meeting new people, exploring the city, and participating in non-consumer leisure activities. We are still in beta, any and all feedback is appreciated...more about the game.

Gamestar Mechanic
Gamestar Mechanic is a game designed to teach young people about game design, with the emphasis on design, not programming. The goal is to help young people—gamers and nongamers—learn what it is like to think about design and to think like a designer. Gamestar Mechanic was funded by generous grants from the Digital Media and Learning division of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Special thanks to the two grant recipients: James Paul Gee with the University of Wisconsin Academic Co-Lab and the Institute of Play. Gamestar Mechanic was originally developed by Gamelab, a game development company founded in 2000 by Peter Lee and Eric Zimmerman.

Quest to Learn

Design and innovation are at the heart of Quest to Learn (Q2L), a school committed to helping every student to achieve excellence in the skills and literacies necessary for college and career readiness. We believe that students today can and do learn in different ways, often through interaction with digital media and games. Q2L builds on this belief to create a nurturing and vibrant 6th-12th grade school environment that supports all students in the pursuit of academic excellence, social responsibility, respect for others, and a passion for lifelong learning.

Institute of Play
We promote GAMING LITERACY: the play, analysis, and creation of games, as a foundation for learning, innovation, and change in the 21st century. Through a variety of programs centered on game design, the Institute engages audiences of all ages, exploring new ways to think, act, and speak through gaming in a social world.

Our Courts: 21st Century Civics

"Only one-third of Americans can name the three branches of government, but two-thirds can name a judge on American Idol." - Sandra Day O'Connor, From Supreme Court to Game Design (Wired, June 2008)

We are currently developing a series of online games for classroom use, available in the summer of 2009. Our games are designed to ensure that students actively seek civics knowledge, master relevant concepts, and organize their thoughts to “win.” Complementing Our Courts’ games will be lesson plans and in-class activities to put issues into a larger context. Our Courts is also creating a stand-alone game, which will allow for a deeper and more individualized experience for students in the classroom or at home. Students will choose, investigate, and argue cases. Their decisions about cases to argue and the success of their arguments will alter the virtual world around them.

Remix World
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Remix World allows you to easily create and customize a social learning network for your institution. Whether you're a school, library, after-school program or otherwise, connect to your participant's learning 24/7! Increase engagement by leveraging the power of social networking powered by a set of tools designed to support youth explore, reflect, critique and create.

Xobni (reverse of inbox)
Xobni is the Outlook plug-in that saves you time finding email conversations, contacts and attachments. What's interesting is that it allows you to get "rankings, graphs, and statistics detailing how you and your contacts use email". Multiplayer email inbox slaying anyone?


The World's Largest MMORPG: You're Playing it Right Now by Jeff Atwood (March 15, 2009)

conference entitled Gaming, Learning & Libraries Symposium
Phoenix College, conference presentations:
best practices in gaming in libraries:
tools and resources The American Library Association

Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie-Mellon

Nordic Serious Games Wiki

A list of games, some with demos.

serious games used in secondary and college level. There is a free demo available:

Pedagogic and technologic innovations in Tactical Language and Culture Training Systems...
Demo Video:

Serious Games Initiative

2009 Serious Games Summit Call for Submissions

Games for Health (-Their 5th annual conference is this June)

Serious Games Institute in the UK

Games for Change info at Wikipedia

News site, but includes augmented reality gaming news and marketing as well:

Gamasutra’s news page. Very good resource, but more general.

Understanding Video Games: The Essential Introduction – ISBN 0-415-97721-5
Mediated Interpersonal Communication – ISBN 978-0-805-86304-8
A Theory of Fun, by Koster.
Clark Aldrich's books.

what a game is -
rationale on use of games in education,-

World of WarcraftConstance Steinkuehler search on world of warcraft research constance steinkuehler - - SL
Elaine Raybourne who is a computer games scientist at Sandia National Laboratories.


Annenberg Colloquium: "Science About Fun: Primitive Psychological Responses to Games and New Media" (Sept 16, 2008)
Prof. Jonathan Aronson, doctoral students and the faculty from USC Annenberg's School of Communication came together for a colloquium with Byron Reeves, Paul C. Edwards Professor, Director for the Center for the Study of Language and Information, and Director of Media X at Stanford University.

Stanford Media X