Character sheet: Gabe Zichermann, the boredom slayer

Games are good for us all. They are good for our children. They sharpen their minds and keep them motivated. Because all we want – and what makes gamification successful according to Gabe Zichermann – are the 3 F: feedback, friends and fun!


Gabe Zichermann is an author, speaker and expert on the subject of gamification and engagement mechanics.

So far, this description sounds like the other experts’ portraits we’ve done here.

But with Gabe, let’s focus on the “speaker” aspect.

Ok, not that funny. Next.


So Gabe Zichermann speaks. He speaks a lot. About many things and mainly gamification.

Here is a little experiment. Click on this link (but dont forget to come back here after). Hundreds of videos. Hundreds of thumbnails showing the smiling forty-year-old on the stages of TEDx Talk, The Next Web, Google Tech Talks, etc.

He is invited to conferences as the “world’s foremost expert and public speaker on the subject of gamification”, editor in chief and founder of Gamification.Co and Conference chair of the Gamification Summit.


Games are good for kids

The video displayed on his TED page is a talk about how games make kids smarter.

He explains how the modern generation of youngsters are used to fast things. Fast images and uninterrupted flow of information [and a natural inclination to new technologies].

Trying to fight this is counterproductive. According to Gabe, we have to understand and embrace this parameter. If some kids are not focused or are bored at school, it’s maybe not a matter of uninteresting content. Maybe it’s because it is too slow.

He quotes professor Dimitri Christakis as saying that to children, the real world may appear underwhelming.

My parents don’t let me pimp my tricyle. And this big orange grenade doesn’t even explode when I throw it at the dog :’(


And to remotivate them, here come the games!

Making intelligent educational games, yes! But no need to involve the parents or teachers.

Zichermann always says he played a game called Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? saying that since then (1987), no educational game has been that successful. Even though 1,200 startups have invested 4 billion dollars in them!


It was the first and the last time that parents, teachers and kids all agreed that a video game was awesome.


So what went wrong?

To Gabe, it’s simple (and may seem quite obvious): parents and teachers got involved in the design of the games. “And as soon as they did, kids could smell that cheap trick* a mile away,” he affirms.

(For the sake of propriety, the original word was changed.)

The allegory of fun.


But the true enemy of a fun system are not (only) parents and teachers. The true enemy is repetition, habituation.


The death of boredom

“Even something like sex with sombody really super hot can turn into an habitual act. It can lose its efficacy.”

The difference with video games is that they adapt to players. As you get better and evolve in the game, the game evolves with you. It’s called level design.

When you’re level 1, fighting a wolf is difficult. When you’re level 100, it’s easy. Too easy. So level designers make you fight a dragon instead.

Gabe Zichermann slaying Boredom (allegory), Raffaello Sanzio, 1503. (Image Wikimedia Commons.)


The other side of the coin: we lose the moments of silence and stillness. Those moments “in which we believe that magical things happen. Because we’ve been told stories that major things always happen at that time. That’s where things were created. With little to no evidence to prove that’s actually the case.”

Zichermann’s answer to this assumption is that we are more creative under pressure. Thanks to adrenaline.

Moreover, no matter how bright you are, how much time you spend thinking about an idea, you won’t solve any major problems alone, locked in a room. Progress is accomplished after solutions are financed, tested, and improved thanks to collective intelligence. Just like it was demonstrated with Foldit.

This is also what gamification creates: interaction and feedback.


Or as Gabe Zicherman likes to put it, the law of the 3 Fs:

Feedback, friends and fun!



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