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Espionage, Subterfuge, and Double Agents

adult learning e-learning game design gamification instructional design Mar 11, 2019

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

The Navy SEALS have a saying, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying. (And if you get caught, shame on you.)” 

This week, we added ten new game mechanics to Sententia’s Game Mechanics document. It turns out, we missed a whole category of mechanics, even though my motivation profile finds these mechanics enjoyable. And if we overlooked them, chances are you have as well.

Why? Well, when we look at the Motivation Profiles of the professionals going through our Level 2 Gamification Certification, we find that most of them are nice and honorable. By extension or extrapolation, we can assume that most people in the Learning and Development field are also nice and honorable. If we can’t make this leap, then it says something about the people who have not gone through our programs, which would create an interesting marketing proposition (“Are you mean and dishonest? Then Sententia is not for you…)

One of the core human desires is Honor. This desire is based upon our need to preserve the traditional and social norms of our tribe. For people who place a lot of emphasis on Honor, it is important to cover women’s heads, go to church on a specific day of the week, abstain from mating with someone not in their ethnic group, and so on. In our professional lives, high Honor people pay attention to roles and rules. 

Low Honor people, who we label as Expedience motivated, are not necessarily immoral (at least in their own minds). They recognize that traditions aren’t always beneficial in the current environment. Rules, for them, should have a purpose. For instance, why do we need these cover sheets on our TPS Reports? If we don’t think outside the box, we will not be creative. Innovation, by its definition, is about breaking tradition and previous sets of rules.

If you are in the Learning and Development field, chances are you are averagely or highly motivated by Honor. Rule following is an important characteristic, and you wouldn’t think of being deceptive or purposely hiding things from your learners. As such a person, you probably don’t play “stealth games.” Such games, like Assassin’s Creed, Saboteur, and Deus Ex encourage “heroes” to engage in dishonest behavior to win. However, lots of folks not only play these games, but find great pleasure in playing the deceptive anti-hero. 

Would you, for instance, enjoy a game that involved the following mechanics:

  • Avoidance detection
  • Camouflage 
  • Deception
  • Distraction
  • Double agent
  • Hiding
  • Sabotage 
  • Spying
  • Stealth
  • Theft

Can you imagine that your learners would enjoy such a game? 

In fact, you are also probably designing learning experiences for folks who are more motivated by Expedience than you are. They enjoy playing stealth games, acting as double agents, spying on enemies, and even acting as a saboteur.    

It is true that deception and stealing are things that we generally discourage in the workplace, but could there be times when we would use these game mechanics to engage learners?

For instance, if we are teaching people about cyber security, could we have learners take on the role of the criminal attempting to steal company data? Would that be more fun than going through all the policies and procedures your company has instituted? Would they also learn why they need to be careful with company data instead of enduring yet another security awareness training?

If you believe you are more motivated by Honor than your learners are, maybe you shouldn’t judge them too harshly. If you are truly creating learning experiences for them, perhaps it is more important that you give them what they would enjoy instead of trying to change their motivation profile (which you cannot do).

If they’ve fantasized about being a spy, perhaps you could give them that experience inside of your learning program. And when you do, you’ve tricked them into learning something (you devious person you).  

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