How Do You Gamify Writing?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Gamifying Chores. While chores are easy to quantify and measure, activities such as writing have a different dynamic. How do you gamify an activity that has so many complicated facets, purposes, and forms?

Blogging is one way to gamify writing. Blogging introduces game elements to make writing more fun. Blogging makes writing so much fun, in fact, that about 2 million new blog posts are written each day. Let’s explore blogging’s game elements in more detail.

Short Tasks

First, blogging makes the writing tasks short. You can usually write a post from anywhere between 30 minutes and 3 hours. Like a game that has a beginning and end (with sometimes a quick middle), so does blogging.

Immediate Rewards

If you write a good post, you’re immediately rewarded with comments, pingbacks (links from other blogs), and mentions on social networks (like retweets).

If you want to measure the value of the post, you could count up comments, pingbacks, and mentions to arrive at a point score of some kind. But a point score isn’t nearly as powerful as the euphoria of receiving comments, pingbacks, and mentions.

Actually, every time you get a comment, a rush of dopamine in your brain’s neurons gives you a mini-feeling of euphoria (see Techno-Addicts). It’s the same euphoria that drives us to compulsively check our email twenty times a day.

Blogging provides more rewards than merely comments, ping backs, and mentions. Rewards can also come in the form of rankings on leaderboards (like the MindTouch one I wrote about), or invitations to speak at conferences. Did you know that in my 8 yrs as a technical writer, I’ve given 50 different presentations at various tech comm events — almost always due to the visibility from my blog? It’s especially fun to get invited to places like Vienna or Manchester.

Rewards for the Rewarder

The commenters themselves experience a bit of a rush in the comment. The commenter gets to interact directly with the article author, adding his or her thoughts and name to the actual page — and then usually receiving a personal response from the author. In this respect, both the commenter and the author reward each other, which drives up the success and repeatability of the activity.

This interaction through comments taps into our motivation for social connection, which is one of the major human motivators.


Blogging also helps us achieve feelings of meaning and validation. If your writing resonates with someone, changes someone’s view, or provokes new critical reflection, it makes your activity feel meaningful. The inherent meaning provides value to the activity that other activities, like chores, sometimes lack.


Blogging involves strategic components as well. You can increase your comments by engaging in a variety of techniques. You can research your metrics to see what topics are drawing the most visitors. You can employ tools like Hootsuite to push your new posts across more social channels.

One blogger I know once promised his readers that for each comment, he would read the commenter’s latest blog entry (if the commenter had one) and leave a comment on the person’s post. (This wore him out but skyrocketed his comment count.)

You can also search engine optimize your architecture to maximize your visibility.

In short, there are lots of strategies to increase the rewards you receive.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Just like any video game has pitfalls and other evils you have to avoid (think ghosts with Pac-Man), blogging has pitfalls. Comments are rewarding, but spam is annoying and sometimes crippling. You have to take measures to protect yourself from spam attacks, using plugins such as Akismet. You have to secure your blog from hackers and other malicious viruses.

Just as comments provide high moments of reward, they can also undercut you. Negative comments that tear apart your logic and reasoning may leave you feeling upset. When no one comments, it can be demotivating as well.

Other comments or pingbacks may actually misinterpret your main points, leaving you feeling frustrated.


I hope you can see how blogging makes a game out of writing. It’s easy to see why blogging has taken off, with millions of new blog posts a day. Meanwhile, those college compositions that you handed in to your writing teacher for an A, B, C, or D grade have become a thing of the past.

What’s cool is that, unlike chores, the game mechanics of blogging aren’t explicitly injected to incentive the activity. It’s not as if English teachers sat around thinking, let’s see, what can we do to make writing fun? I know, we can add an elaborate web architecture with an interactive comment system integrated into a self-publishing platform and social networks to share the material. The game mechanics are natural and fully integrated into the activity, which is why blogging is so successful.

Madcap FlareAdobe Robohelp

By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for the 41st Parameter in San Jose, California. I'm interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication, API documentation, information architecture, web publishing, JavaScript, front-end design, content strategy, Jekyll, and more. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

  • Ellis Pratt

    Hi Tom

    I did a presentation at UAEurope 2011 called “You win – applying games theories to User Assistance”. It covers how Technical Authors can use gamification theories in user documentation. The original 45 minute presentation has been edited down to 13 minutes, and is on YouTube

    • Jeff Coatsworth

      Interesting presentation Ellis – one question though – your editing took out the examples about how Adobe & Madcap were adding game elements to RoboHelp and Flare. What were they?

      • Tom Johnson

        Now that Flare has come up with Pulse, which I believe allows users to log in and maintain profiles, Madcap could fairly easily add a game component to their regular documentation (rather than just offering the badges in the forums).

    • Tom Johnson

      Ellis, thanks for editing your presentation into a nice concise online summary and putting it on Youtube. I wish everyone did that. I just watched it and also checked out the slides on slideshare.

      I didn’t know you had an interest in gamification. I’m working up to a post on techniques for gamification with documentation but just haven’t gotten there yet. My plan is to gamify all my documentation is a pretty over-the-top way (but which would make sense given the product). Have you done any more research with gamification in tech comm beyond this presentation?

      • Ellis Pratt

        Thanks Tom.

        I do keep tabs on developments, but I’ve not seen much change since I did this presentation. I do keep in touch with Sarah Maddox at Atlassian, who developed the Atlassian Dragon Slayer challenge.

        Techcomm’s place maybe as a component of a much larger game – to go the whole hog, you need programming skills. To an extent, gamification has become less fashionable, as companies sites started add badges to anything they could.

        At the risk of hijacking this thread, let me say, at the moment, we’re seeing more effective changes emerging with regard to a more informal/emotional style of writing. We now run a day long training course on this in the UK, so it’s a little tricky to summarise in a few words, but it includes: our changing relationship with technology, how software is changing, ideas from Kate Kiefer Lee’s as well as Stephen P Anderson. There’s a whitepaper on this subject that should be on the Adobe TCS Web site next week. I’m also covering some of it in the webinar I’m doing for Adobe next week.

        Back to gamification: I’d recommend reading Gabe Zichermann’s and Jane McGonigal’s books as a starting point.

  • Ellis Pratt

    You want me to spill all my secrets?! We constructed a 10 point checklist based on the factor listed by Gabe Zichermann and Jane McGonigal. One of the points was badges and levels, and these are used in the user forums by Adobe and MadCap (MVP, Propellerhead).

    • Jeff Coatsworth

      @Ellis – ah, forums – now I see – I was thinking I was missing something inside the software that led itself to gamify my writing ;>)

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