Here's Why You Need to Master Storytelling in Gamification

There’s nothing like a good story. It’s captivating, its inspiring, and keeps you on the edge of your seat. A story is unlike anything told before, and yet has a smack of familiarity to it. Everyone needs a story, no matter who you’re targeting, and what objective you’re after.

Games, in particular, need a story. And we’re about to find out why they’re just as much in need of the power of narrative in their materials to get the ball rolling. A well-thought-out narrative is what will add depth to a project or experience and develop a realistic scenario.

I’m here to explain why, and how to implement storytelling in gamification.

What is gamification?

Here, we’re talking about mastering the craft of extracting ‘fun’ from otherwise mundane everyday tasks. ‘Gamification’ is a term, because it shares a commonality with games, but instead of virtual quests – they’re adapted to reflect real activities that affect your work, your team, and your company.

It’s a cunning art, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that gamification means ‘tricking’ users into carrying out tasks. That’s only partially true – because what these smart platforms actually do, is facilitate work. There’s no ‘clock and dagger here’ – it’s taking game elements and applying them to a typical workday.

And it works. Let’s find out why.

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The art of the great story

“Did you hear about that guy…” 

Stories come in many shapes and sizes, there’s no need to hammer out a novel for a game. But a story needs narrative. All you need is to be spontaneous – try writing a quick story now, and I promise you’ll find your own voice in no time.

Here’s where storytelling must be relevant. A story that complements a gamification platform should be consistent with your company, and its personality. Let these sample questions be your guide:

  • What kind of culture do your employees experience at the office?
  • If your company were a person, what would you want it to say?

What makes gamification successful?

If you’ve ever sampled a video game recently, you might find some familiar features in them. These have formed the basis of user engagement in gaming. Here are some models of dedicated mechanics used in gamification:

  • Goals – complete your objective and win a reward – such as a badge, or extra points.
  • Status – users can continuously boost their level of rank through engagement and activities.
  • Leader boards – these ‘hot lists’ proudly display who is ‘winning’ to inspire others to work harder.

Let’s look at a list of popular game mechanics and approaches to gamification. Not every example is ideal for each company and every type of employee. Not enough examples? Be sure to add this to the list as you see fit!

Multimedia for a demanding world

The more dimensions your user sees, the stronger the quality perception, and engagement. What are you waiting for? A treasure trove of rich media is out there waiting to be exploited!

Audio clips, imagery, and videos are your top choices to immerse players into scenarios. A broader selection of features means a greater realism they can experience in their environment. Many of us are visual learners, whereas others base their learning on audio, or could be impaired in some form, so keep this in mind too.

Your users could also come from across the world. By using various types of media, you should be able to cast a net on a wide demographic of operators and achieve similar outcomes with users.

Interactive narratives

When you encourage short-term interactions with learners and characters, it allows you to echo certain desired behaviours. A good way to add depth to this process is through branching decision points – which could alter the outcome of the story. Here’s a tip – you can immerse them further by asking learners their opinions, but without impacting the story arch.

A game is only good as its level of interaction and creativity, and this kind of interaction builds actionable feedback to improving the module. Meanwhile, you can gather insights on knowledge levels to fine-tune modules to reflect actual user abilities and limitations.

Make stories ‘unreal but relatable’

It’s always a good idea to make sure players apply their ‘virtual’ behaviours in real life. This can come from any calibre of narrative, be it Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or very simple stories.

The key here is to embed the stories in the realities of the world in which they are played. This can be tricky, but simply look back into your company identity, and employee. Then, you can match the elements that apply to your prospective users.

Uplifting and positively-reinforcing scenarios in even the most exotic forms of fiction are great ways to inspire your users and motivate them to be at their best in the workplace. Don’t be afraid to be creative here.

Who doesn’t love a challenge?

A motivating objective will keep your learners engaged and intrigued with your story. They’ll be curious to know what happens next!

Stories aren’t always rolling green meadows, rather they need to demonstrate problems to your users. Challenges and resolutions will help everyone to understand the scope of their encountered issues, and will look to dealing with them accordingly.

Keep the relevant though! Challenges, when applied correctly, can also help reinforce desired behaviours. But that can be a challenge in itself too! If they become too obvious or treacherous, then you may alienate your target users. So be sure to reflect and update your system when necessary.

Emotions will always connect

You can be sure to remain united with your team through the power of emotions. Why? Because retention levels will skyrocket. Maya Angelou once proclaimed, “you may forget who said what, but you’ll never forget how they made you feel.” These are words to live by.

Take note of some of these great examples of gamification techniques. These are just some of the incredible features that you could add to your story and maintain that sentimental element that users love.

Boost motivation with storytelling

Let users ‘complete a task’ by setting the bar at a reasonable level. Incomplete tasks are a thorn on anyone’s side, but an unreasonably tricky quest can derail one’s emotions. That being said, make these challenges appropriate to the employee, their culture, and their tasks in-question.

Customisation brings a personal element to the module that helps engage users, but to better-immerse themselves into the virtual world. Bonuses and Easter Eggs also help deepen the experience, by letting users ‘unlock’ things in the game. These entice curiosity and can stimulate wider discussion among team members in the non-game realm.

Above all, make sure to empower your ‘gamers’. Recognising achievements and running fair competitions will complement any type of story. Use the element of surprise, positive reinforcement, and above all, use the power of games. They're meant to be fun, after all.