The power of feedback mechanisms

Reality is sometimes hard to deal with and often we find ourselves wondering if the direction we are going is the right one. Games are an escape from reality. Within this virtual world players know if the direction they take is the right one. Feedback given at the right moment gives them guidance. When wrong decisions are taken, they won’t reach the next level. Gamers can try over and over again in desperate need to reach that next level. Appropriate feedback at the right moment keeps them motivated. They don’t worry about failure. Instead they learn, they learn how to master the controls, they learn how to solve puzzles quickly, they improve their hand eye coordination skills and in the end they learn what the game is all about. Most games are fictional and entertaining, that’s a choice. They can just as easy be educational, or both! Every game provides a player with constant feedback. There are roughly two kinds of feedback: conscious and subconscious feedback that more or less triggers our senses.

Conscious feedback

All the progression and activity loops are there to create awareness about the progress of their activity, so obviously it’s considered to be conscious feedback. We use it to motivate people, giving them signals and signs that they are on the right track. Sometimes (during game play) showing players they achieved something. Most of the time it provides prove on progress making a player feels good. At the same time it offers transparency. Due to the feedback, players of a game know exactly where they stand within the game, but also compared to other players which ranks are visible on leader boards. That can be rewarding, as well as disappointing. When the ranking looks bad it actually says: “try harder, do your best or use another approach. It could also be that it’s not the player’s type of game. This mechanism has proven to be useful in real life situations and they play an important role within Gamification. In real life it tell participants the same things as mentioned above. Such a level of transparency might be frightening at first.

Subconscious feedback

Game mechanisms give us feedback we can’t deny and they often create awareness about our progress. It’s a powerful tool. Subconscious feedback might even be more powerful. It’s presented in such a logical, natural way that players are no longer aware that it basically is feedback. By now it could be that you think what on earth is he talking about. With one simple example it will be perfectly clear.

Picture a race game, where a player pushes the joystick to the left, and the car on the screen moves to the left. That’s subconscious feedback. This kind of feedback is very powerful and closely connected to the player’s intrinsic motivation while playing a game. In this example the feedback has to be instant. When someone moves the joystick to the left, the car has to go left immediately. The slightest delay and the feedback changes from subconscious to conscious and that doesn’t make the player happy. When reviewed, the critics will say that the controls of that particular game aren’t smooth. Bad controls have caused games with potential to fail in many occasions. Without any doubt an extremely important detail.

Imagine a mobile app. At a certain stage in the software it’s obvious that people need to scroll. They will automatically touch the screen and swipe in a certain direction. What do you think happens if the application reacts half a second later? People become conscious of feedback that should be subconscious and that has a big influence on their mood. The damage done on their intrinsic motivation could be beyond repair. Those tiny details determine the difference between failure and success!

Feedback in real life

Now that we know what feedback is let’s take a look at reality. Real life doesn’t give us the feedback we need automatically. Sometimes it’s there but we don’t recognize it as such. People that are aware of this (sometimes hidden) feedback have a better chance of succeeding. Applying appropriate feedback mechanisms to change behavior is an important ingredient of Gamification. Take a look at activities in real life from a distance, and you will notice that almost anything can be Gamified. Sometimes all it takes are feedback mechanisms to reach your goals.

I always consider the elections to be one big game. People need to collect as many votes as possible within a limited time frame. In these modern times we could make that much more interesting for voters and politicians. If a politician takes a stand and shares it, feedback could tell how well it did. They might learn something from it. At the same time they could engage voters to participate in the whole process. Give voters points, or rewards if they prove to be loyal supporters of a political party. By gaining status there is a big chance that they turn into important online ambassadors.

Feedback shouldn’t stop at the end of the elections. They could make the whole process transparent. Every politician has a program that contains goals. Wouldn’t it be great if those goals were presented as challenges online, so everyone can witness the progress? Politicians that achieve goals get points, in an open online environment. There is no place to hide. But being that open, it could even be possible for participants (voters, the people) to help their representatives achieve their goals. That would indeed be a different world and people would be much more engaged in politics. Actually, they become a part of it!

To me feedback mechanisms are a must to create real transparency. Not only to understand our own behavior but also for making systems transparent. Conscious feedback isn’t hard to apply within software and could show us the right path. Unconscious feedback could make interacting with a system more fun, natural and smooth and that puts us in a positive state of mind. Both are important, both can make a difference. So what’s stopping us?