Gamified experience for behaviour change

Recently, ThinkPlace facilitated a hugely successful event at COP26 with ACIAR, using a Miro-based game for communicating key concepts and research about climate transformation. The event was big hit among the audience. You can read all about the event here.

A lot of thought, planning and design went into the event experience as we wanted the particpants to navigate through a lot of complex information in a short amount of time yet have an engaging and interactive experience. The solution: We took a gamified approach.

To understand the nuances and mechanics behind the gamified experience of this event, we sat down with world-leading Gamification Expert and ThinkPlace’s Behavioural Design Practice Lead, Kerstin Oberprieler to find out more.

What is gamification?

Kerstin: Gamification is the use of game mechanics and experience design to engage users and solve real world problems. It’s about applying a more playful and gameful approach to every life, with the purpose of engagement to solve a challenge.

Gamification has developed as part of the recent increase in multi-media technologies including tabletop games, online and video games, advancements in human-computer interfaces and interaction, and simulations through augmented and virtual reality.

It’s been applied to a large range of fields, including:

  • education
  • brand loyalty and consumer experience
  • fitness and health
  • environmental sustainability
  • public services
  • workplaces
  • education settings

Common examples include FitBit, Duolingo, and even frequent flyer programs could be classified as gamified experiences.

Why gamification for behaviour change?

Kerstin: Games tap deep into our psychology. In fact, humans have been playing games for at least 5,000 years based on relics and playthings found all over the world.

There are several psychological theories that underpin gamification and game-like experiences that are grounded in behaviourism and social cognitive theory:

Self-determination theory 
A cornerstone theory in gamification, Self-determination Theory (SDT), gives a useful framework for understanding human motivation. SDT states that humans have 3 desires that need to be fulfilled:

  • Autonomy – the ability to make choices
  • Relatedness – connecting with others
  • Competence – a feeling of progress and skill

SDT states that sustained engagement occurs when these three needs are fulfilled. These needs are more likely to be fulfilled when the goals are intrinsic (sought for their own sake) rather than extrinsic (sought as a means to an end).

In game and gamification design, SDT provides a useful lens for designers to ensure the game mechanics provide opportunity for all three needs to be achieved.

For the ACIAR COP26 game, the 3 needs can be achieved through:

  • Autonomy – choosing an objective, each round choosing Project and Actor cards, choosing which Event card and die roll to reveal.
  • Relatedness – the game is played as a team, involving lots of discussion and interaction to make decisions about managing their coastal food system.
  • Competence – players learn the game as they play, and become faster at making decisions each round, providing a feeling of progression and achievement. The game is scored at each round and at the end, providing direct constant feedback about game success.

Embodied cognition

Embodied cognition is the research of the body’s role in cognitive processing. In essence, it states that the body’s movement and interactions with the environment play an important role in understanding and working through knowledge. While traditional cognitive psychology focusses on the brain’s processing from a purely computational perspective, embodied cognition is about appreciating the body’s role in acquiring and working through knowledge.

Taking this approach to games and gamification, it’s about designing in physical or interactive elements into the game. If you think about your own experience playing card or board games, you will note that the physical act of moving a token or putting down a card is an important part of the enjoyment.

For the ACIAR COP26 game, we wanted to re-create this interaction to boost engagement and enjoyment, and also to involve the body in the processing of the key concepts. When first deciding on the format for the game, the challenge was how to achieve this interaction when the majority of the hundreds of players were attending virtually. This is why we decided to use Mural as the platform, because it is quick to learn, easily accessible remotely, and allows for live collaboration and moving of elements.

As you can see in the screenshot below, multiple players are moving around the board at the same time, and can place Project and Actor cards, as well as uncover Event cards, and even roll a virtual dice.

COP26 ACIAR Game Board 

What is the process of designing a gamified experience?

Kerstin: When designing a gamification experience, we use a 5-step gamification design methodology, based in PhD research and over a decade’s worth of design practice.

  1. Intent – gain understanding of business intent from project sponsor
  2. Explore – conduct user research and content
  3. Make – formulate ideas, develop a concept and test it
  4. Implement – implement the gamification experience
  5. Evaluate – evaluate the results for further improvements and scale

          For the ACIAR COP26 game, here is a brief overview of what we did:

          1. Intent – clarified learning outcomes, key transformation concepts to convey, how the game fit into the COP26 event.
          2. Explore – read academic research papers and interviewed transformation scientists, and defined player style and motivations.
          3. Make – developed initial game mechanics, play tested the experience and refined. Over several weeks we playtested 7 times with different users to get the right balance of mechanics, onboarding experience, and learning outcomes.
          4. Implement – we facilitated the game at ACIAR’s COP26.
          5. Evaluate – we evaluated the experience through a post-event survey, team retro and reflection.

                  Our design process in action:

                  Game Board prototype

                  Game Board Prototype

                  Game Board Prototype

                  Where to next?

                  Kerstin: This joint project with ACIAR showed the value a gamified experience can play in communicating scientific information in an engaging and memorable way. The positive feedback demonstrated that participants enjoyed an interactive way to engage with information and that a gamified experience can be done through easily available platforms like Miro.

                  It is a promising direction for novel forms of engagement for creating impact.

                  If you’d like to know more about this game or design your own gamified experience, get in touch.





                  Deci, E L & Ryan, R M 2000, ‘Self-Determination Theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development,and well-being’, American Psychologist, vol. 55, no. 1, pp. 68-78 

                  Donovan, T 2018, ‘The four board game eras: making sense of board gaming’s past’, Catalan Journal of Communication & Cultural Studies, vol. 10, no. 2, pp 265-270. 

                  Hamayon, R 2012, ‘Why we play: an antropological study’, Hau Books Chicago, Chicago, USA. 

                  Oberprieler, K A 2018, ‘Workplace gamification using Cultural-Historical Activity Theory: Three case studies’, Doctoral Thesis, pp 1 – 394, Canberra, Australia  

                  Werbach, K & Hunter, D 2012, ‘For the win: how game thinking can revolutionize your business’, Wharton Digital Press, Philadelphia, PA, USA.