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Melinda is an entrepreneur, gamification wizard, and N7 paragon. She specializes in perfecting the telling and sharing of narratives through interactive experiences to create behavior change. Melinda is the founder and Managing Director of Subatomic, a digital experience agency taking engagement to a level over 9000. Subatomic is the proud Dutch Partner of Create Converge, an Interreg EU project that promotes collaboration and connection of creative companies within the North Sea Region. She’s a mentor, coach and advisor to startups such as Ticketless.ai, greenApes, and Lootcakes. She’s an international speaker, giving workshops and talks around the world. She’s published her research in peer-reviewed journals, as well as on the review board for several publications.
Every day is different for her, she gets to travel a lot for projects and different clients. Usually, she spends a lot of time on trains and has a lot of decaf coffee, she already has enough energy as it is! Melinda also does quite a bit of reading to stay up to date.
At some point, she was working on a project related to teaching people about finance with a company. They designed this artwork with characters and decided to test it with an audience. They went to this program where they check people’s reactions to visual content even using MRI! The recommendation from the program was to go for this character who was “charismatically clumsy.” Then they faced the challenge of getting full commitment from the client for this playful environment. She was then trying to find a middle ground for playfulness. So a key lesson to learn from this experience is to know, beforehand, what level of playfulness everyone in the project will commit to, it is something you need to embrace, or not! Think not only of the pieces, remember that when they fit together they will be part of a system and you need to consider how they will work together. Projects do not exist in a vacuum, there should be the main message, a system, a narrative behind the whole thing.
In another project the client was having problems with the users actually using the system, they were certainly not enjoying it. The problem was that they had a lot of communication but it only spoke about the system and not about the users. The users were pushed aside in the narrative, so the users pushed back! They didn’t know how they fit in, they couldn’t see the benefits. Instead, they were rejecting the whole narrative. What Melinda and her team did was first realize that the problem was that and then find a way to include these players into the narrative of the whole system, so they would be a part of it and willing to participate! My take is that one of the keys is to have a level of personalization so the players feel it is for them. It is one of the superpowers of good games, as a player you can feel that there is a narrative you can understand, follow and be a part of.
Her process is by getting the client to simplify. It is necessary to get down to the core of why it is that this is being done. Before getting into mechanics, processes, user flows, journey, you have to know what it is you’re telling. It is not necessary to list out EVERYTHING you have to do, because simplification is important. She also likes to get people to find a sparring partner to use along, especially when the design decisions come up. Step two, right after you know what story you want to tell, it is important to uncover what you want to make players feel, what you want them to walk away with.
A best practice when using gamification is not to think of it as a practice. It is easy to get into thinking that it is about adding mechanics, which is not what causes engagement, gamification is a way to approach projects but it is about the way to design games! Thinking about engagement and the system as a whole.
Melinda’s favorite game is Mass Effect, especially the idea of having decisions that really affect you later on, not really knowing if you made the right choice at the moment. It also has a range of being “good vs. bad” where it is not a clear-cut, most people fall somewhere in between, like in real life. She also really enjoys Okami, especially its artwork.
She would love to listen to T.L. Taylor on Professor Game! So far as books, she recommends us, the Engagers, pretty much anything by Dan Arielly, like Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. It is important to take a step back and see how people behave in general. An important part of considering your players is to realize that they are people, not part of your design, and not entirely predictable! Her superpower would be to see how people relate to stories, how we in general react and interact with them. She finds a way to understand how people will tell their own story within the general story, how they can fit in so you can see it in the big picture of the whole system.
The random question she answers is about the use of gamification in a Biology lab! Her answer is right on spot, so listen to it by clicking play above! You might also like to listen to Tracy Wazenegger‘s interview! She is a science teacher.
Her final advice is not to be intimidated by designing for interactive and playful manners, it really all starts with a story and what you want people to get out of it. Don’t be afraid to start to explore how you could create such a story, start there, no matter how complicated it is it starts with that.
Finally, if you also want to take a look at Melinda’s talk in Gamification Europe, check it out here!
Looking forward to reading or hearing from you,