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.
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.
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.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.