Engage your Players!

EngageWelcome back, Gamers and Players.

The post today is inspired by some gamification company operating in my neighbourhood, and discussions I had with marketing/social media consultants.

[Sorry for delay in updating blog… when job calls, blog awaits. I’m scheduling next 6 posts, so the next weekes you will be updated regularly ūüėČ ].

Today we’ll talk about some fundamentals of ludology. I’ve avoided until now theoretical post… but I recently realize that, till Gamification will be proposed from a Social/Marketing point of view, useful tools of Game Design will be misunderstood.

Roger Callois¬†can be taken as founder of the ludology as a discipline of its own. This post is a quick overview on how his idea can be used for game-design to gamify. It offers a full array of available solutions to engage players, avoiding the risk of repeating the same Gamification solutions again and again… (and that’s the worst you can do in a game-related field).

It is important also to notice that, actually, ludology¬†is not a science by itself: applications of games have been studied in math, finance, sociology and psychology, but until today ludology hasn’t dignity of discipline of its own. Only some not-properly expressed game-design theory exist. My hope for the future is about Gamification with strong ¬†fundamentals.

Note : If you are a game-designer probably you will already know Caillois (if not, fix this immediately). This post shows why a simple implementation of a social game in another context can’t work without a “fun-explaining” theory.

The 4 driver of engagement

Caillois classified in “Man, Play and Games” the games upon the emotions and feelings they create in players. There are 4 primary driver of engagement (we call them this way to better refer to current gamification mission):

  • Agon, or competition. Chess is an almost purely agonistic game.
  • Alea, or chance.¬†Playing a slot machine is an almost purely aleatory game.
  • Mimesis, or mimicry, or¬†role-playing.¬†Should I explain that? Remember that even watching a movie is a matter of mimesis.
  • Ilinx, or vertigo¬†(in the sense of altering perception). E.g. taking hallucinogens, riding roller coasters, children spinning until they fall down.

First of all, you can easily see that classification is applicable very beyond “games”. It’s almost a structure we can find in¬†any¬†kind of “fun” possible. Watching a movie? Mimesis. Betting with someone? Alea. Trying to do best that our records on mile by foot? Agon. And so on.

This classification allows to easily point out the emotions you want from players. Very roughly, they are:

  • Competition to be better that the other for¬†Agon. Note that this is what most of the gamers looks for, and game designers give.
  • Satisfaction for using your chances at best, and the “fate will love me” feelings.¬†Alea.
  • Experiment feelings and emotions different from what we actually have.¬†Mimesis.
  • Losing control of ourselves.¬†Ilinx.

A game is made by players, even more than by the author

Can possibly the 4 different drivers mix each others? Obviously they can (and Caillois know that very well)! But there is something even more important to notice: is the players that can shift between a driver to another Рeven without changing game.

It’s important to notice that, because a driver for engagement cannot be un-related from the player itself, some games may be drifted to another driver from their primary one:

  1. An addicted gambler player can bet its entire money and fortune over a single roll of dice. This is not related to Alea, because Alea has nothing to do with how much you bet. This is Ilinx, because the player looks for the vertigo of having an entire life on a single roll of dice.
    The Russian Roulette, for example, is another kind of game that has even more Ilinx than Alea in itself.
  2. Many Agon games (especially within board games) easily transfigured themself in Alea games. When a competition will be decided for a single roll… it’s alea as much as agon.
  3. For many hardcore video gamers, Agon is not in charge in the most competitive games. A micro-delay in connection, a glitch or glimpse, a tiny slowdown in your processor can decide the most competitive challenge. It’s not different from olympics, or any other high-level sport: tiny details make the differences. This is¬†Alea also, rather than Agon.

Note that you can obviously create a game that uses more than one driver, or that even switch from a driver to another during play. Remember that to play is in player’s hands. Focus on new ideas!

The Ludus and Paidia dichotomy

There is another distinction in Caillois theory we don’t need, but we should at least briefly write down. Distinction between Ludus and Paidia. There are (roughly), “organized games with structures, rules and boundaries”; and “free games, make by behaviour or attitude without rules” (remember that, for Caillios, even a simple dance is an Ilinx game).

We don’t need this distinction because, obviously, we are interested only about¬†Ludus.
Anyway, if your are interested in Jane McGonigal “gamification as real-life training”¬†approach, ¬†want to create games to educate people towards more responsible behaviours, probably you should test yourself in creating a¬†Paidia game (that are, in modern terms, more “viral” than ludus).

Business Applications

So, how Caillois theory can be useful for Gamification?

First of all, you can easily understand how gamification, until now, haven’t used the full opportunities “games” can offer. More specifically, gamification is based on a primitive involvement of players by¬†Agon.
Mimesis is quite used (from long time), but in fields as recruitment, HR and so on.

Actually I can’t find a single game, developed for business, that uses¬†Ilinx or¬†Alea. This one I wrote¬†probably mixed¬†alea and agon… but a full array of solutions shall be wider and include also Ilinx-based business games.

So, think out of the box. Don’t follow the leader: try to create games that used different driver for engagement, and find out what’s the competitive advantage they can give!

See you the next week.


5 thoughts on “Engage your Players!

  1. This is very interesting. I’ve just started a fledgling interest in ludology itself. I’ve been reading up on miscellaneous articles on Reddit (I know), so I don’t know much yet. This is the first time I’ve heard of Caillois; and the 4 drivers of engagement is very, very interesting. Thank you for providing such a good read when I chanced upon this blog.

    Other than Man, Play and Games, are there any books that you would recommend for a budding video game blogger?


    • Hi PewPew,

      the others Caillois writings always have good ideas that can be used in games, but they are not specifically dedicated to games. Probably only “Mask of Medusa” (which is about symbols) have enought game-related ideas to suggest a reading.

      Anyway, you can’t miss Huizinga and its “Homo Ludens”. It is written from a historical perspective, but it is quite enlighting in explaining how deep and long is relationship between men and games.

      My best regards,


    • Ah, I’m slightly familiar with Huizinga and his prose centered around Magic Circle. And I just ordered Man, Play and Games off amazon for about 20bucks.

      Looking forward to seeing it in my mailbox. ūüėÄ Thanks for the great tip!

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