Power of encouragement

“You’re a product of your environment”.

What this phrase means, is that the environment you live in becomes your accepted norm. As a consequence, it influences your thinking, behaviour and actions.

“You are what you eat”.

Another similar phrase, although in this case it means that what you consume or do, defines who you are, both mentally and physically. This happens through the consequence of how the things you do or consume affect your mind and body, directly or indirectly.

Video games are about immersing a player in an environment constructed by the developer, where the player consumes content provided by the said environment.

The point I’m getting at here, is that a video game has the capacity to influence a person using the power of encouragement.

And by extension, if you can influence a person, you can change them.

Not just for video games

The power of encouragement can be used anywhere where there is a need to influence a person to do one thing or another, including influencing yourself to change as a person.

My focus with this post is on video games, but just to keep in mind, the same principles explained here can be applied to anything else in life and business, not just games, books, movies and other forms of art.

While reading this post, you can replace the context of “video games” with [your activity/project/work/hobby] and the general patterns discussed in this post may apply to your topic too.

A warning

Power of encouragement is a tool. It can used with a good intention, evil intention and clueless intention, for positive and negative effects. It could be classified as a brainwashing method for manipulation or as a catalyst to unlock greatness within someone.

The point is that the power of encouragement is not evil, but it can be used for it, just as it can be used for good. It all depends on the intention of the developer and the awareness of how careful they are with what their project is encouraging.

On the subject of real world impact and the consequences of it, video games can have a real impact on influencing people to change their behaviour or attitudes in real life.

However, video games do not exist in a vacuum. The world we live in is highly interconnected, where there are many things that can influence a person, so one single thing cannot always take the blame for a consequence. Still, even with that in mind, do not underestimate the significance of influence a video game can have on a person.

Although video games have been mostly regarded as harmless entertainment initially, they can actually do significant good or significant damage on their own. Using a great power in a controlled way requires respect and acknowledgement towards it, otherwise it will either simply not work or end up going out of control, with potentially destructive results.

To summarize, do not underestimate video games with their influential power, but also do not place the blame entirely on them as everything in this world is interconnected. A designer must be mindful of what they create by using thorough predictive analysis, that can allow one to detect and be aware of the potential consequences their creation could spawn, no matter how seemingly trivial they might be.

Video games are not evil nor good, but the developer has the power to make it be so.

How does it work

Its all about immersing a player in an environment. The main point is to understand how an environment affects a person and how to construct an environment convincing enough for a player to stay in it.

In simple terms, an environment encourages things by making them give comfort/pleasure should the person pursue these things, and likewise, an environment discourages others things by making them give discomfort/pain if attempted to pursue those instead.

The pleasure and pain makes it more likely for a person to do one thing and not do another, through means of encouragement and discouragement, hence why its called the power of encouragement. Its an indirect method of forcing a person to change because its more rewarding or more painful to do one thing than the other.

It works by taking advantage of human emotions and their effects on a person. If a person feels good about something, they want more of it. If something makes them uncomfortable or otherwise feels bad, they’ll try to move away from it or remove it. While detailed preferences of what is good and bad may differ from one person to another, the core concepts are always universal for every person, just as breathing air and drinking water is.

For example: setting a person on fire will cause them to feel intense heat, far beyond what a human body considers as healthy, which causes a reaction of discomfort and intense pain, which the brain translates to a so called “bad” thing, not only for that it fucking hurts, but because it also could lead to death if not dealt with, and death itself being considered “bad” because it would prevent the person from enjoying all the good things ever again, thus encouraging the person to take action to make the fire and the associated pain to stop as soon as possible.

Another example: if a person is interested in something personally as a hobby, they’ll find joy and satisfaction in doing it, learning more about it and become more creative with it, because in doing so, they grow spiritually stronger and wiser as a person by learning new things, improving their skills with a certain task that they personally find satisfying.

They also get to express themselves and their creativity, which allows them to enjoy being their true selves, being able to voice an opinion or bring something new and unique to the world, potentially changing it in their image or by delivering a personally meaningful impact to it.

These things feel nice to a human and thus the persons brain registers it as “good”, further driving that person to do more of it.

The above two examples are extreme opposites, but they apply universally to any human being equally. Understanding how a human feels and how to evoke those feelings is the key to crafting environments to use the power of encouragement in a controllable fashion.

Its subtle, but very powerful

The power of encouragement is powerful to the point that even if a person is aware of its influence and actively tries to resist it, as long as one stays within the environment, the increasing discomfort and pain resulting from the resistance from the person will make it very difficult and unsustainable to stay that way in the long run.

Its like trying to pretend its hot outside while its actually freezing cold. A person who wears only light shorts and sandals in that environment is most likely to turn into a solid ice cube despite their optimistic attitude to resist the cold by not acknowledging its existence.

As soon as the person begins to give in to the temptation to stop the discomfort and pain, a process of adapting takes place, where whatever the environment offered as the preferred action from the person becomes the norm. Furthermore, this norm is further reinforced by giving more encouragement, comfort and pleasure for doing it more, creating a spiral of indoctrination that makes the person believe that something is good or bad because the environment proves it and demands it.

In short, a player’s sense of value is being redefined by the environment they are in. What defines as good or bad is all in the hands of the designer to decide. The encouragement happens by presenting a choice where one or more options are favored or dissapproved over others by triggering good or bad feelings through the use of emotions.

A notorious example of this is found in the progression aspect of many free to play games, where grinding can be skipped by paying money. The game makes it increasingly uncomfortable to keep doing the free route by making the grind last longer and become harder as the game goes on, encouraging players to pay up to make their lives better, while making it progressively worse to those who resist paying.

Definitions of good and bad

The way a designer defines something as good or bad is by first understanding how human emotions work and where do they come from on the most basic level. This requires observing people and see why humans behave one way or another, to find the underlying reasons for why certain actions or reactions happen.

Also looking up how certain emotion related words are defined in a dictionary and then thinking about their meaning for yourself can also be helpful. Finding out the answers to how human emotions work can be done by breaking them down to their most simple parts.

For example: What causes the feeling of comfort? Lets break it down.

What does comfort mean? Its a feeling of safety, calmness.
What gives safety and calmness? Consistency and security.
How do you achieve consistency and security? Make everything behave predictably and not pose a threat.
How do you make things predictable? Make them follow a single standard of values and behaviour. Also, mimic objects and their behaviour from the real world to make them more relatable.
How do you set up a standard? Create a template and base everything of that template.
What should be included in the template? Find out the basic requirements that things need to exist in the environment.
How do you find that out? Start from the most basic level of existence. Look at the environment and define the basics of that, then let the rules of the environment define the objects inside the environment, and finally let the events that happen within the environment be defined with the said objects in the said environment.
What about making things not pose a threat? Do not introduce things that could potentially create discomfort, danger, unfavorable change or chaos in to the environment in any way.

This is what breaking things up to the most basic levels looks like. I’ve already gone through the effort of figuring out the answers for each question, but I need to mention that it took plenty of time, research and thinking to find these answers. While it can indeed escalate quickly and reveal just how deep and interconnected everything is with one thing to another, it eventually allows you to find the core of what makes something happen, which in turn, allows you to see a way to use it to your advantage.

Its kind of like how scientists harness new forms of energy when they discover them. They break it down to the atoms and then find the critical hook within its core that allows them to harness it.

In a similar way, discovering what causes happiness, anger, fun, discomfort, joy, pain, pleasure, frustration, motivation and many other human states, feelings and emotions at their most basic core levels, gives the designer the necessary tools to achieve the understanding of how to evoke a certain emotion.

Like in the above example, consistency is a big part of comfort, so if the designer does the opposite and makes things behave erratically, unreasonably and unreliably, then the result is inconsistency which leads to discomfort and trust issues with the game, ultimately causing frustration and a failure of immersion.

Disassembly of the goal

Continuing on, the same process of breaking things down to the basics, as explained before with how to figure out how emotions work, applies just the same to the goal the designer wants to achieve with the game, or in other words, the direction of desired influence the game is intended to create and guide its player towards.

If the goal to create addiction and combine that with milking money out of the victims that fall for it, then the designer needs to break down what makes addiction happen and how to harness it, the same way as mentioned before, by braking it down to the smallest pieces. Then repeat the same process for how to make people give money within that framework of addiction.

The main point here is to find the most clear definition of the goal the game is trying to achieve. What is it trying to do, exactly? Knowing the goal is half of the work done as the other half of figuring out how to achieve it depends directly on the first half.

When a designer knows what the project is supposed to do exactly, they’ll have a solid starting point in trying to figure out what is needed next to make it happen.

For example: If a person wants to make a wooden chair, then knowing the end goal automatically guides the person to see what is needed to achieve that goal with the help of some logical thinking. To make a wooden chair, the person can get some wood, draw a design for the chair, gather up some hardware tools, take measurements and find a place to do it in. After all the necessary ingredients of making something happen are found and gathered, the wooden chair can be made into reality.

However, it must be said that the said ingredients are never obvious at first like they are in the above example.

Usually a project begins from a vague idea which might not be even the real goal itself, but something that seems like it initially was at face value, so the first most important thing in any project is to pinpoint the real reason behind it and what is it trying to achieve.

Its fairly common for developers to first say “Ohh lets make a game about X”, but then end up creating a game about Y, while still thinking its actually the X they were going for. Meanwhile, the actual reason what makes the X was hidden behind the Y, but the developer simply took it at face value and saw Y, thinking it was X. This failure to properly analyze and research what is at the core of X causes the developer to work on a project that completely misses what the original point was.

This usually leaves the developer dissapointed and frustrated when they thought they were doing the right thing, but then the final results fail them, all because of the lack of properly defining and figuring out what the real purpose of the project was.

While a developer can indeed learn from mistakes by brute forcing their will, it can save a lot of time, energy and money if some effort is put into fully understanding the goal that the project is intended to achieve before starting to work on it.

Knowledge brings revelation

Returning back to the example of the addictive, money milking game I mentioned earlier. I want to point out a very important piece of irony about that.

If a developer would go through the effort of finding out every concequence of what it means to make an addiction inducing game with the aim to milk its victims for money, understand how addiction works, know what it would do to people and what effects would it have on society in the long term (which, by the way, are all necessary to understand in order to make an effective design), then developer would be terrified and to disgusted to actually do it.

Upon the realization of the destructive potential such a game would bring to the individual players and society at large, they would bury the idea from ever becoming reality. Probably even warn others too.

The funny thing is the more a person is to study to do something evil, the less likely they are to do it, which is why I’m not concerned about telling about this power to begin with.

Additionally, studying anything makes a person wiser through the virtue of forcing them to think about their subject to achieve understanding, which is needed in order to harness the power of that subject, and that understanding brings revelations to things that are either related to the subject in question or that the subject may have influence towards.

And some revelations can be quite eye-opening, enough to stop a developer from continuing on a path of evil, unless forced to do so by despair, but since that is just as unavoidable as getting hit by a bus by accident, its not worth dwelling on and rather focus on what you can do than what you can’t prevent.

Ultimately, people universally want better and have good intentions at the very core, even if it doesn’t always turn out that way, althought this usually happens due to lack of knowledge or experience, which is where the good news comes in; if people want to do something effectively, they need to study it properly.

Studying causes learning and learning makes people see more deeper and wider into things, revealing new information that helps them to achieve their goal properly.

Meanwhile, as everything is so interconnected in this world, often that new information revealed during the learning can also lead to some discoveries that will force the person question if this is really what they want to do. If its evil, the power of encouragement will tempt them to stop, meanwhile if its good, it will further make them more excited to go forward with it.

If a person wants power, they must first understand it, but in doing so they end up asking questions on what that power exactly is and how will that power be used, revealing a truth to themselves about what they are doing and where it will lead them eventually.

People are encouraged to learn more, which means they’ll be naturally driven to become more wise as the universe we live in encourages that type of positive development, and that gives me the confidence in humanity to strive towards the better in the end, even if there are nasty bumps in the way.

At this point, a cynic in you might point out the horrible business practices, evil monetization schemes and other greedy exploitative systems that are used by many developers today. The truth is, they’re either clueless to better alternatives or desperate and clueless due to survival or societal pressures that prevents them from seeing the problems they create and inhibit their ability to find the better alternatives.

Whats more hilarious is that the better monetization method alternatives, that empower the player instead of subjecting them to addiction or restrictions, are far more superior in the potential income they can generate.

Still, the pursuit of efficiency will eventually lead people to find the better alternatives through research and study automatically, so it’ll all be good in the end.

Putting it together

After figuring out what the goal is and how to evoke desired human emotions out of players, it then becomes a matter of combining the two things together.

Understanding the goal of the project gives the ability to see what needs to be made. Knowing human emotions gives the means to do so. Using the toolbox of human emotions, I can evoke feelings within players, which are then used to encourage certain behaviours and discourage other behaviours.

I hope I don’t make this sound easy. This is not easy to do, it takes a lot of time to find the correct way to set the system up and its very fragile to uphold control of the direction you want to encourage players towards.

Still, despite its required investment in time and carefulness, it is incredibly powerful and totally worth getting into for its world changing capabilities alone. However, it has required for me to shift my mindset to look at everything objectively and question absolutely everything.

While the easy way to describe the instructions on how to use the power of encouragement is simply to “say ‘why’ and ‘how’ at everything”, the whole idea of questioning things and looking deeper into a subject to see its underlying causes, to see the so called “big picture” of things, has taken me years of thinking and observation to develop, where I can see things around me abstractly, see the core mechanics of why something happens and how.

Theres nothing mystical about it; All I do is ask “why?” or “how?” when I see something interesting. I keep asking those questions until I find an answer that I personally feel is true deep down. Sometimes I find an answer that leads me to another question instead of the final answer, requiring me to find an answer to that before I can find the real answer to the original question.

A good example of this is a story of a mechanic and a leaking machine. I don’t remember the original version nor where I heard it, but the idea was that the mechanic was tasked with fixing a leaking machine.

Upon inspection, the mechanic looks at the machine and finds a hole where the leak occurs. He patches it up and the leak is no more. However, after a day, the machine starts to leak again, with a new hole. At this point, the mechanic could ignore what caused the leak and patch it up like he did with the last hole, only paying attention on what is seen on the surface, the visible part of the problem, or he could investigate deeper why did the hole occur in the first place to prevent it from happening ever again, otherwise he’d have to patch a new hole every day, until the machine fails completely.

Being a responsible mechanic, he decides to inspect further and try find a cause for the holes that keep popping up. Turns out, the machine was using a much too high pressure when operating, which is beyond what the materials of the machine can withstand. So the pressure is lowered and the hole is patched again.

Still, a new leaking hole appears the next day anyway. This time the pressure is ok, so there has to be some other reason why the holes appear. The mechanic takes a much more closer look at the inside of the machine and finds out that there was a defective component, which looked innocent when the machine was off, was actually the real reason behind the holes, but this was only noticable when the machine was running, making it difficult to see or even think about this possibility while the problem was looked at from a surface perspective, instead of looking deeper for clues.

Switching out the defective component and rechecking the pressure and patching the last hole, the machine never leaked after that fix. Good ending.

The moral of story: You can’t solve a problem on the level it occured. Instead, look deeper in to the cause behind it to find the real solution. Use the same way of thinking to find out the goal of a project and get the knowledge of evoking human emotions.

Finally, using basic logic and creative thinking, look at the goal you want to achieve and what kind of resources do you have to work with. The path from start to end becomes clear step-by-step with this mindset, when clearly see what you need to do and what you have, as all you have to do is say ‘why’ or ‘how’ when you face an obstacle to find an answer to it.

Encouraging is too easy

Just to clear up on when I said that this is not easy, I meant that its not easy to do it properly and have the effects of encouragement under complete control, which would defeat the whole purpose of using the power of encouragement if you don’t have control over it in the first place.

Clueless use of the power of encouragment is stupidly easy, to the point where people actively encourage things and never even realize what they’ve actually done. The hard part is trying to control it properly towards your purposes.

If not properly used, the power of encouragement can easily backfire and either produce the opposite result of what was intended or encourage something completely else at random.

I’m trying to make a point here about how even the most simplest thing anywhere, done by anything anywhere, can wield the power of encouragement, most commonly by accident, without you ever knowing about it, due to how subtle this power is. Its important to realize this point as every single design decision on how a game will work, no matter how seemingly tiny, has the risk of encouraging something, be it good or bad.

Whats worse is when a designer decides to follow tradition, based on how seemingly successful the predecessor that used that design decision was, without understanding the real reasons for themselves.

And I have to remind that this applies to more than just video games. Things you do in real life, both actively or passively through general behaviour may be encouraging others to do something or discouraging them from doing another thing, no matter how seemingly trivial that action is you do.

To prevent a game from accidentally encouraging anything unintended, the main idea is to inspect each design decision in detail, find out what its most basic components are that make up that decision and what those component could potentially instigate individually or in combination.

Don’t gamify,…

To go into detail about why clueless encouragement is very easy, I’m going do an example where first I show where the mistake can happen and then explain the proper way to manage encouragement.

Lets say I want to make a game that teaches how to eat healthy.

So my goal is encourage the user to change one’s lifestyle to eat healthy, both in terms of how they eat and what they eat.

Eating healthy is a fairly important thing for a human being, no matter who it is, so finding hooks for motivation and tangible reasons to do so should be plenty. In that sense, encouraging this subject is easy as its universal for everyone and a very natural thing to do.

The wrong way to go about this is to gamify the subject, by using arbitrary scoring mechanics, grades and medals to reward a player based on doing the “right” actions and taking the “correct” choices within the game.

The problem with gamification is that its based on extrinsic values, rather than intrinsic ones. Extrinsic rewards divert the focus of the player away from the taught subject itself, because with the introduction of arbitrary rewards, such as medals, leveling systems and experience points, the game prioritises these rewards over the actual thing that is being taught.

That game puts these rewards on a pedestal and makes them shiny, flashy and remarkable in whatever way it can, while the actual learning material is considered a grind. Even just the simple inclusion of artificial and arbitrary elements is enough to steal the focus of the player from the taught subject, aside from making it shiny, which only further strengthens the extrinsic reward’s value over the teaching.

By playing a gamified “education” game, your success is measured by how many medals or points you get, not by actually understanding the subject you’re supposed to learn. It may not be the intention of the developer for this to happen, but the systems on which the game works on, actually encourages this behaviour.

The error here is by not understanding the root causes of how learning happens, not fully knowing what gamification is actually doing and completely underestimating the human mind by treating it like a dumb machine that can be filled with information as easy as pouring juice into a bottle, instead of treating it as an intelligence capable of independent thought and desire, equipped with a powerful standard-issue bullshit detector.

It also should be noted that the human mind is very picky about what it learns and ignores, especially if that information happens to not be critical to stay alive nor something genuinely important or otherwise remarkably worth striving for.

By using gamification and extrinsic rewards to “motivate” players to do something, the developer is actively encouraging the player to care about these arbitrary values and rewards by making them look appealing and feel satisfying when recieved.

While the learning material may not be intentionally made to look or be treated as lesser then the artificial rewards, the contrast between the learning material and the extrinsic rewards puts the player in an environment that actively shines a brighter light upon these rewards, making them feel more important and thus more worth pursuing than the actual education.

In other words, while the developer wanted the game to say “Hey, eat healthy food! Its good for you!”, what happened instead was that the gamification within the game communicates this message to the player: “Do these arbitrary actions, you will get flashy rewards for your obidience”. The player will see that what needs to be done to “win” the game and do just that, not actually learn anything valuable, nor see the point in eating healthy.

Noticing an issue like this is not easy. When I said the power of encouragement is subtle, I was not saying that lightly. While on the surface gamification might look like a really clever idea, it actually is far more counter-intuitive once you look deep enough at what it actually does, how it works and what results is it really encouraging.

Gamification relies on the principle of “fake it till you make it”, where as you do something knowing its not true, but do it anyway with the intention of brainwashing yourself to force your mind to believe it, in order to change yourself.

This is bad for a number of reasons. For one, it is not sustainable in the long run for the players mental health, because one is essentially lying to oneself. One can only betray oneself for so long before it becomes unbearably uncomfortable to remain in that state.

Secondly, by faking something, the player is essentially brute-forcing themselves to do something through sheer repetitive action, not by actually understanding what they’re doing, not learning the reasons and the whys behind it, but by just doing it blindly. If there is no understanding of why something is truly important/valuable and how it works under the hood, becoming efficient at it is going to be very difficult without such knowledge.

Third, because the player is faking it and they know it deep down, there is no genuine motivation for driving them forward to keep doing it. Instead, they need to force themselves to continue doing it, which is not a comfortable thing to do, thus its discouraged, placing the longevity of this strategy of forcing oneself to do something at risk of falling apart on it own weight at any moment.

And finally, brute-forcing is wasteful in the long term. Its like trying to break a brickwall with fists, which could take ages and thousands of hits, where as with knowledge you could understand what you’re facing, get a big sledgehammer and bring the whole wall down in a few hits fairly quickly. Both methods eventually get the job done, but the latter option didn’t leave your hands bloody and broken, nor did it take a stupidly long time to get through.

With that explained, lets look at the proper way to do it.

…Keep it real

If something is valuable or interesting in itself for any tangible reason, it should be able to stand on its own as it is, without the need of external support to make it relevant.

Furthermore, through its own value, by itself, the taught thing should fuel the viewers motivation to explore it more and drive one to pursue it more deeply on their own, either through genuine curiosity, excitement of potential applications or just because its fun.

The goal is to bring out that value into a rapid and easily digestible form, as well as make it as easily accessible as possible to both learn it and use it. Anything that tries to glorify it beyond what it is, will only divert focus from it and make that glorification be the center of the action, instead of the subject itself.

In other words, keep it real. Show it as it is, point out what makes it valuable, how to get it and/or how to use it. Infact, this entire post about the Power of Encouragement is a big example of just that; explain this power, show its value and how to use it.

In the example of the game, where the goal is to encourage healthy eating habits, there are several steps to the process of figuring out the best design for such a game.

First, the subject itself need to be analyzed and evaluated. Ask questions like: Is there value in this, where does that value come from, why is it valuable, to who is it valuable for, what potential traits, negative and positive, does this subject contain and what potential consequences could it bring?

Next, if the subject is indeed found valuable and the reasons why are clearly identified and understood, then using the information gathered in the first step is then used to find hooks of interest, as in thoughts and concepts that can be used as remarkable points to evoke interest and motivation towards the subject.

When enough information is gathered and good hooks are found, that information is then used as the basis to design the game, based around the collected ideas and concepts which are remarkable and motivating. Game mechanics are built to reflect these ideas as interactive representations of said ideas and concepts.

Heres how this works in the case of the healthy eating game project:

First, the subject of eating healthy is looked at in detail by asking questions that aim to get a better understanding of it.

1. ‘Eating healthy’, what does it mean?
2. Is it valuable?
3. Who is it valuable for?
4. Where is that value?
5. How to show that value?
6. How to make that showing of value be interactive (in other words: how to make it actively engaging, not just passively viewable)?

My answers would be these:

1. It means the idea of eating the correct food and how to eat it to improve the well being and longevity of a human being, while preventing wrong eating habits and eating wrong food from damaging health or causing discomfort, as well.

2. Yes. Good health means more energy, more power and more endurance to do more stuff and feel good, which also translates to more happiness.

3. Anyone who is not already eating healthy and are either actively looking to find advice to improve their well being by changing what they eat, or for people who have no clue that eating healthy in terms of what they eat and how it can be beneficial to them and change their lives for the better.

4. The value is in the knowledge of knowing what is good and healthy, while also being aware of what is bad and damaging in terms of eating food.

5. The value can be shown by demonstrating the effects of good food and bad food over long duration of time, both externally and internally on a human being. References to real life research and other verified real life evidence is also good material, especially in a simplified and easy to use format.

Additionally, tips to transition into healthy eating habits, with such things as recepies, general advice, warnings, links to further information, how to’s and other similar material that gives concrete, easy-to-follow-and-perform actions a person can take to move towards it the goal of eating better, as per what the game is supposed to encourage.

6. The player can have the option of choosing what food to feed a character and then fast-forward time to see the effects unravel infront of their very eyes with the direct reasons explained why this happens.

Also, for filtering advice to suit a player more personally, they can input various parameters, like food allergies, preferences and situational conditions (availability of certain raw materials, resources available, time available) to get information that is more relevant and precise for each individual personally.

From here, a matter of making a fully laid-out game design is easy, since the basic foundation on which the game could work has already been revealed in the 6th answer.

In all its simplicity, you have a character on screen that will eat stuff regularly, a set of food options that can be switched for the character to eat instead and a timeline that can be rewinded, fast-forwarded to have a full control of time to both easily access short term effects and long term effects of what food is currently being fed.

The power of encouragement comes in to play, when the player gives stuff to the character to eat and sees the effects of what it does to that character. The effects visually depict the character in becoming more stronger and happier or weaker and miserable based on their health, which puts the player in the moral position of the observer that is controlling the action, actively making this character feel good or bad. They have the power to empower that character or ruin it.

Once they stop playing and have lunch or go to the supermarket, the thought of what they played will linger in their mind, making them remember the game and now think of it from the perspective of “what if I’m that character?”, allowing the player now to picture the game in the sense that this character is actually themself, and the player of that game was the mind of that character that tells it what to eat, allowing the user to realize that they hold the power in choosing what they put in their stomach, in the context of real life.

An understanding that what they are doing is right or wrong occurs, creating a scenario where it becomes comfortable to aim to eat healthy and uncomfortable to eat unhealthy, because eating healthy gives a good feeling, while eating unhealthy causes problems and bad vibes.

Again, to notice these kinds of things is hard, but through asking the questions “how” and “why” for every single thing that comes across allows a designer to see these hidden things and how to use them to their advantage. Question absolutely everything.

Do not force a subject

Another very important thing to mention is that even if something is interesting and valuable, it might not be relevant to everyone at a single time. Forcing a topic in someones face, even if they would directly or indirectly benefit from it, is counter-intuitive, unconstructive and potentially even harmful.

This topic is a fairly lenghty one and I personally have particular first-hand experience of being subjected to this forced, fear-driven style of education method throughout my childhood, so I’ll talk about it seperately in another dedicated post.

However I must stress that the results of forcing information or skill upon anyone makes the targeted person be more focused on the experience of being forced and feel fear, rather than learning the subject itself.

As a quick example, back in the day when my mother told me to clean my room or else she would beat me, I was more concerned with the avoidance of getting beat up, rather than giving a crap about why cleaning house is so damn important. This type of conditioning made me stressed out and see my mother as an unstable violent monster, rather than a person to respect as a partner and worth helping when in need.

Furthermore, just like gamification, using fear has the same effect as using extrinsic rewards to attempt to motivate in someone doing something. The focus is diverted on to the fear, not the actual content itself.

Instead of forcing, the key is to simplify the subject to the point that its very easy to get into and easy to use, then make it very easily accessible to find it and pick it up.

When I say simplify, I don’t mean dumbing something down. The goal is to have all the functionality and depth of a subject packed up into a more compact and streamlined format, that is faster to use and more intuitive for a human being to interface with.

An example of this is how jet figther controls have evolved over the years. They began with having lots of buttons, switches, meters and displays in the cockpit, which were then converted to touchscreen displays to make them more context sensitive and less cluttered, reducing confusion and making them more efficient and faster to use.

Meanwhile, automation was used to automate missile guidance to hit a target without needing the pilot to control the missile manually while also controlling the plane at the same time, which would have reduced spacial awareness during flight if they needed to focus on the missile controls while flying their plane.

No functionality is removed, only made easier to use with better design and new technology. Same thing applies for game related systems.

The important point is not to develop a game with the mindset of “everyone must play this”, but instead approach it with the mindset of “make it good, present it good and put it out there on display in the right place like a seductive jar full of delicious cookies”.

Getting into the latter mindset is not easy if you’re desperate for approval or money, instead of just making a game for the sake of making a good experience.

The ironic paradox is that the game made with the latter mindset is the one that will actually be the one that will become succesful, while the game made with the forced or desperate type of mindset will result in half-assed shit, because you cannot focus on being patient enough to figure out the proper way to control the power of encouragement for that particular game, let alone make it fun to play.

In conclusion

That about wraps up the topic of the power of encouragement. Took me forever to write this damn post, re-doing it a few times because the tone wasn’t right or I needed to find a better way to explain something, as its often the case with trying to explains these types of abstract things. While I might internally know exactly what it is and how it works, putting it into words that make sense is difficult because of its abstract nature. Still, its done now and I’m happy.

The power of encouragement is a very powerful tool and if understood properly and used in a controlled way, it can be potentially used to change society or individuals for better or worse. A huge reason why I wrote this post is because many developers are already using it for the worse, either cluelessly or in desperation and cluelessly, without having any idea of the damage they’re causing with their projects.

At the very least, hopefully this raises awareness. I know what is it like to be in a desperate state of mind, where your current situation sucks and the only way to get out of it is by having lots of money. In that mindstate, survival and personal well-being takes priority over making a quality product.

However ironically, the best way to make money and success in the long term is to actually create a quality product. To add to the paradox, long terms effects of short term projects which have the intention to purely make money, not create a meaningful nor useful value to its users, opting to implement heavy monetization measures and focusing on addiction instead, these projects can have seriously devastating effects on both individuals and society, by the means of mental degradation and value shifting to praise vanity over real functional value.

The akward aspect of this is that these bad effects can have long term consequences that will need to be undone afterwards once they become apparent. Things like addiction and glorification of vanity are not issues that go away that easy.

I don’t expect this post to stop anyone from doing these negative things and I don’t blame them if they do, but by putting the information out there I hope to encourage developers to get an understanding of what consequences such projects and design decision will bring, if pursued. And generally point out that there are better alternatives to be pursued than what is seen today.

At the very least, hopefully such short-sighted monetization tactics would drop in the priority of developers to be only used as last resort in a dire emergency (read: Never), while making way for valuable and proper use of the power of encouragement to be used instead, for long term prosperity of everyone.

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