Raspberries, Learning, and a Dose of Dopamine

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

We LOVE dopamine. The release of this neurochemical in our brains rewards us when we do things that are/should be good for us and/or the passage of our DNA to the next generation. We feel pleasure, for instance, when we see a raspberry because our brain knows that when we eat it, the glucose will give us energy (and it will taste good). Soon afterwards, though, the dopamine drops off, and we desire another berry to get that dopamine dose again. We will even walk back to the berry patch and fight with the stickers to get the next raspberry.

But what is even more interesting is that dopamine appears to be involved in learning and memory.

To exert some control over an uncertain life, dopamine rewards us when we discover information about our environment. After all, when we return to the berry patch next month, we’ll only see a tangle of stickers. Our ancestors needed to learn about seasons so that they would...

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Pushing Boundaries Through Play

Play, at least from an evolutionary psychological perspective, isn’t always smiles and unicorns. Watch any group of children playing, and you’ll see them push the boundaries. Boys will typically escalate “rough-and-tumble” play until someone expresses pain. And while girls stereotypically are less physically aggressive, their play often involves psychological components, such as, teasing, gossip, and exclusionary clique-formation. 

While adults typically intervene when boundaries get pushed during play, it’s important to understand that this is vital aspect of play. All mammals engage in this type of play, especially as juveniles. Watch two dogs playing, and the snarling and tugging will continue until one of them yelps. Similarly, a group of children will escalate rough-housing until someone says, “Hey, that hurt,” or a few tears are shed. 

Typically, the play pauses at this point. The hurt and hurter both learn something about...

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Espionage, Subterfuge, and Double Agents

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?...

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Play Makes You Smarter—Seriously

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

Science shows that the bigger your brain, the more you play and the more complex your play is—at least compared with other animals. From dogs to dolphins, the bigger the brain, the more likely you are to play.

Neuroscientists have hypothesized that the evolutionary roots of play lie in our need to deal with the social dynamics that come from a complex world with expanding social groups. As our brains grow, so do our interactions with our environment and culture.            

Scientists assume that play programs the higher brain regions such as the neocortex. If this were true, then the desire for play must lie in more ancient regions of our brains. In fact, when the neocortex is removed from rats early in their lives, they play as much as any rat. But when lesions are cut in the thalamic somatosensory project areas of the brain (ancient parts of...

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Territory Exploration and Learning: Fortnite and Learning Programs

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Sententia Gamification Chief Motivation Officer

I was in high school when Zork was available on the Commodore 64. My friends and I spent hours a day exploring the imaginary world with a notebook full of what we learned about the realm, the questions to ask, the instructions to give, and so on. 

With only 64K in memory, the only graphics this game had were on the floppy disk case (Yes, I was so cool that I had one of the first floppy drives). Our whole experience we had with this vast underground territory was through typing questions and making decisions on the answers we received.  

Of course, Fortnite is a completely different experience than what I had decades ago, but if we remove all the shooting, the core desire that made Zork fun for me is probably part of what makes Fortnite fun for you (or your children): The core desire I label as Adventure

When Dr. Stephen Reiss was mapping out core human desires. He noticed that everyone...

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Using an "In-Game Economy" in Your Learning Programs

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

In-game economies are a common game mechanic in gamified learning programs; however, it is important to understand that people interact differently with economies based on their Motivation Profile. Without such an understanding, we risk unnecessarily stressing participants, and in some incidences, they may abandon our program.

Broadly defined, the game mechanic of economies involves some type of currency that is used to buy, sell, or trade inside the game. This currency can take different forms. At its simplest, a participant may use the points they’ve earned to “purchase” access to the next level. A more complex economy may involve an actual currency with which participants can purchase in-game items, such as weapons and adornments for their avatars.

For example, in my course, This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Grammar, I have dueling economies. The narrative for the program is Grandma...

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In Search of Fun

by Monica Cornetti
CEO, Sententia Gamification

Is it possible to make dull, difficult, tedious, or challenging tasks just a little more fun? 

What if you could make your employee learning experiences interesting, challenging, and FUN -- perhaps more game-like?

The reality is… you enjoy playing games. You’ve been playing games since the days of cavemen, and it is your nature to compare yourself to see how you measure up to others. Games drive emotions, build loyalty, and create character. 

Watch people immersed in gameplay and you’ll see their whole being is involved. They’re using their skills to the utmost. Time becomes meaningless and minutes, even hours, fly by. What if you could deconstruct games to understand what causes people to play games for hours, being completely involved in an activity for its own sake?

Because FUN is a completely subjective concept, to create courses that learners find relevant and fun is the pursuit of every...

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Seven Ways to Add Stories to Your eLearning Courses

by Monica Cornetti
CEO, Sententia Gamification

We all know that stories are a great way to engage an audience, yet it seems so few people actually study and use the tool in a manner that truly impacts their audience. 

So, what does it actually take to create a story that is not only engaging but also a highly effective training tool?

Storytellers often use one of seven basic plots identified by Christopher Booker, in his Jungian-influenced analysis of stories and their psychological meaning:

  1. Overcoming a Monster – the hero(es) must overcome a dark evil creature, person, or entity that has exerted an evil destructive force over a person, a group of people or a place. Examples:  The Silence of the Lambs, Dracula, Jaws, Hansel and Gretel
  2. Rags to Riches – the central character is seemingly plucked from nothing to greatness where they are very often rich with immense status. The hero very often gets quick success which is swiftly taken away from them. In order to...
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What Makes Your Learners Tick? (The Secret to Gamification Design)

by Monica Cornetti
CEO, Sententia Gamification

Gamification is an effective tool to make training engaging and fun, because it uses the dynamics of games, such as collaboration, chance, and progress, to tap into learners’ intrinsic desires to master and complete tasks.

When done well, gamification makes training more engaging because it requires participants to complete a challenge, helps them see their progression, and gives them instant feedback and reinforcement.

However, it is important to recognize and address common obstacles that can crop up when using gamification in training. The obstacles include failing to identify why gamification is being used and not knowing whom you are designing for.

Because gamification relies on triggering an action in learners, the key to success is developing solid learner personas. We’ve found that most organizations don’t do assessments of who the players are and what motivates them. What makes your people tick?

Many...

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Lotteries as a Game Mechanic… Fun or Manipulation? (Part 2)

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

In a previous article, I wrote about the evolutionary psychological aspects of the game mechanic of lotteries. In this article, I want to share some of the cool uses of lotteries to change behaviors. While these examples are not about employee engagement and learning, I think you’ll find them interesting, and hopefully they’ll generate some creativity on how you can use lotteries as a game mechanic in your programs.

In my previous article, I noted that lotteries are enjoyed by most people except for those who place a high emphasis on Savings and Tranquility (the need to be safe). For them, the risk outweighs any pleasure gained from anticipating a large windfall. 

Lotteries are certainly popular, especially when the pots reach tens of millions of dollars, but when we discuss lotteries as a game mechanic, we find that lotteries are about more than simply rewarding with cash. The fun comes from...

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