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I Nearly Died Trying to be Bad Ass. Here’s What it Taught Me About Gamification…

I Nearly Died Trying to be Bad Ass. Here’s What it Taught Me About Gamification…


By Kasey McCurdy, Applications Engineer at Bunchball, @pyroblue

I can’t put my finger on exactly which point during my grueling, masochistic, 12+ mile trot through hell that I had…well, let’s just call it a realization.  I really wish I could remember the exact moment that my brain, which was most likely running on fumes, allowed me to have this singular coherent thought.  Was it when I swam through a tank of 34°F water?  Or maybe it was the moment that I, one who is deathly afraid of heights, jumped off of a 25+ foot ledge into ice-cold water that had a depth of…”sorry man, i can’t tell you.”  Just maybe it was as I was being shocked by 10,000 volts of direct current as a guy sprayed me in the face with a garden hose while I ran like a little girl.  Yeah, that was probably it…as a jolt of electricity nailed me in the left arm, I think I said to myself “why in the hell am I doing this again?”

The answer: an orange headband. And a beer. 

No, I wasn’t escaping from some Soviet Gulag…this was a Tough Mudder. The funny part is that I PAID to have the ever-living hell beat out of me while I ran 12+ miles cross-country through waist-deep mud, one impossible obstacle after another, and hills I thought only existed in my grandpa’s stories about walking to school.

So, what exactly does this have to do with Gamification?  Well, everything.

Kasey in hellWhen I first was exposed to the concepts of Gamification, I remember having my doubts, if I’m being honest.  ”Why would people do a bunch of stuff for a badge, or to get some status on a leaderboard?”  I didn’t quite grasp why people would put their time, energy, and effort into doing something that, at the end, got you something that was somewhat intangible.  After years of seeing Bunchball give our customers one amazing success story after another, I’ve realized how wrong both my initial skepticism and thought processes were.

I was thinking about it all wrong.  It isn’t about the shiny thing you get at the end.  The reward doesn’t matter if the journey didn’t matter.  

Imagine you could have someone show up at your doorstep everyday, give you a lavish 10-foot tall trophy, congratulate you for being awesome, and print your photo in the paper.  All for doing nothing.  Eventually, after the initial bliss of being rewarded for seemingly doing nothing, the prestige would start to fade.  Now, picture a scenario where you are driving home from work and see a burning car in a ditch.  You hop out of your vehicle, dash right into the inferno, and save a mother and her two kids who were trapped.  Your reward?  A 99-cent card from the family thanking you from the bottom of their hearts…maybe a medal from the mayor.

I’ll bet that after a few weeks, you’ll get sick of the trophies, and they’ll get tossed.  But, I can almost guarantee you’ll hold on to that card forever.  After awhile, you won’t tell people about the meaningless trophies that are now just an annoyance.  But, 30 years from now, your grand-kids will hear the tale of your heroics when they see that tattered card stuck in the corner of the mirror on top of your dresser.

Again, it’s not always the reward, it’s the experience.

So why did I continue to go through what I did with Tough Mudder?  Well, because Mudder had every single one of the core elements of Gamification motivating me…and they worked. 

Reward: The headband I got cannot be purchased.  It is earned.  Wear that headband at a race, and other “mudders” will give you a shout and maybe a little respect.
Status: I now can say that I am physically in the top 5% of my friends.  I basically proved that there’s a small sliver of bad-ass in me somewhere.
Achievement: I now know that I can accomplish anything, no matter how difficult it seems.  Running across that finish line and getting “crowned” with my orange headband still gives me goosebumps to think about.
Self Expression: This photo below says it all.
Competition:  You definitely don’t want to be the last person on the course.  And, as I sign up foreven more Tough Mudders, I’m going to leave my initial time in the dust.
Altruism:  This was HUGE.  You have to help people out, and it feels great.  You can’t finish a Tough Mudder by yourself.  You need people, and people need you.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t routinely climb 12 foot walls by myself.  With some help of friends though, I did it.  You rarely saw people competing by themselves…it was all about teamwork.

As you think about how you are motivating your customers, your employees, or anyone else using Gamification, think less about what they’re going to get at the end.  It might not matter to them if the road to get there can be traveled by anyone.  Instead, make sure you focus on the whole experience and the journey they take to get to the reward.

And if you’ve never heard of Tough Mudder, I suggest you check it out (, as it will be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do…if you survive…


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