Immersive Conversation Through Gamification

What Exactly is Gamified Conversation?

Gamification is using game mechanics like points and teams to focus and motivate engagement. At the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Reality we use gamification to create a more immersive and inclusive online conversation space. One way we do that is by defining everyone in the conversation as your team and challenging you to achieve the highest possible score together. You get points for contributing, questioning, and citing.

The point of conversation here at the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Reality isn’t to win an argument, but rather to explore a topic; exchanging ideas instead of gladitorially championing them.

The basic concept of the Guide is simple. A conversation is the product of all the members participating in the conversation. Each interaction within a given conversation produces Points; the score of the conversation is the sum of all the interactions within the conversation.

Everything you do in a Guide conversation scores points. Everything everyone else does in the conversation scores points. More people interacting more in the conversation will produce higher scoring conversations.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Reality begins with 4 distinct point-scoring interaction options within a conversation: Contributing, Cosigning, Curating, and Clarifying. We’ll break each of those down real quick, and explain how they help shape a more collaborative conversational space, but first we need to address how to make Guide conversations happen.

Oh Captain, my Captain!

Every conversation needs a Captain, in the old school playground sense. And maybe in the classical pirate sense. I’m not gonna tell you how to Captain your own conversation. The thing is, the conversation doesn’t exist until some courageous Captain creates it.

Once you have created an account at chat.hgtr.co you have the privilege and the responsibility to make conversations happen.

Part of this is just a technical fact: someone has to click the New Conversation button and then decide how long the conversation is going to be: 5, 15, 30, or 60 minutes. The Captain can declare a theme (there’s a short list of options for now), and name the delicate young thing. Captain hits the red “Start” button and now the conversation exists. There’s even a unique url and everything.

Be bold, mighty Captain!
That unique url is important, by the way, because that is how you invite people to join your conversation. Copy the url and share it by whatever digital means you prefer.

Also, all the convo urls follow this format: chat{dot}hgtr{dot}co/two-words, where the two words are randomly generated when you start the conversation, so it isn’t too difficult to share vocally either, especially if the group already has a couple convos under their collective belt.

However you share the url, that is the only way people will find your conversation. After you share the url you will be able to see on your conversation’s roster as people join your conversation. They don’t need to create an account or anything, they can click Join Conversation and pick a username.

When your team is full enough for you, Captain, hit the green “Start Conversation” button. Posting will be enabled for all participants, the timer will start counting down, and now you can all start scoring points! So let’s move on to how the platform uses point scoring to turn these conversations into a game.

Contributing & Cosigning

Contributing is pretty self-explanatory: add a comment to the conversation. Each contribution scores a single point for the individual who posted it, and a single point for the conversation as a whole. It’s kinda like basketball in that you want to score a lot of points as an individual and all those points add to your team’s score. The more you score, the better your team does. This is the place we want you showing off how awesome you are and how much you know. Flex, conversational rockstar, flex.

Cosigning is an intentionally ambiguous approval, indicated by hitting the 👍🏼 icon. We don’t want to try and define a particular standard for why someone might approve of a comment. Maybe you think it is correct, or funny, or just a valid point in the dialogue. People like things for different reasons. Each Cosign 👍🏼 scores a point for both the person approving and the person being approved, adding two points to the conversation score.

In any event, nothing too new about Contributing and Cosigning. You get a point when you add to the conversation, if someone likes what you added you both get points, and all those points get added to the group’s Total Score.

Curating

Curating is one of the fun new facets of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Reality. Each member of the conversation is responsible for deciding which contributions they find valuable by hiding, or Muting, contributions they don’t find helpful using the 🚫 icon. Curating scores one point for the person doing the curating, adding one point to the group score.

Each contribution that has been Muted disappears only from the screen of the participant who did the Curating, because what one person finds unhelpful might be the highlight of the conversation for another. One person’s conceptual trash being another’s ideological treasure, and what not. Don’t worry, it isn’t gone forever; there’s an option at the top to unhide Mutings. There is no notification when someone Mutes something you have contributed, because we want to encourage exploring ideas to which you aren’t committed.

Conversation doesn’t have to be about making yourself feel right or making someone else feel wrong. Conversation can be a place where we make each other’s worlds bigger, instead of smaller. We want to provide a place where it is safe to explore bad ideas, where you can express something without being shamed for not having fully considered a position. Muting allows you to control how a conversation occurs for you without socially punishing ideas with which you might not agree.

Clarifying — Beg The Question & Append Citations

Clarifying is another new feature of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Reality, one is at the heart of our efforts to change the combative nature of much online discussion. Clarifying is about requesting more information about a specific post, and the original poster being able to add information to that specific post.

There was a technique in classical rhetoric called Begging The Question, which given the fluidity of language has come now to mean mostly begging this question — a means to introduce whatever interrogative someone finds relevant at the moment. This is not Begging The Question, in the classical sense. The Question was always the same question, the precursor to our development of the scientific method, the foundation of our beautiful skepticism:

Why do you think you know what you think you know?

The re-introduction of skeptical introspection is critical in our age of ‘satirical news’, propaganda, and general information overload. Why do you think X? Because you read Y article online? Why do you trust Y? Did Y include lots of empirical data with substantive and diverse sample sets?

This critical introspection is especially important when confronted with information that disagrees with the information one thinks they know. How do you choose when to update your old information with new information?

Maybe you think you know the quickest route through you city to the place with the magical chicken nuggets, but the app on your phone is really insistent that another route is quicker. Why do you think you know what you know, and why does this source of new information think it knows what it knows? You have all your past experiences, but the app has real-time traffic updates and fancy algorithms, so which do you act on: your old information or the new information?

In our platform, when confronted with information that contradicts your own information, we offer you a choice. You could Curate that information and just prune it from the conversation as irrelevant. That is a bold move, and it will only clip that contribution from your view of the conversation. Totally fine, you get to decide what stays in your conversation.

Your other option is to hit the ❓icon to Beg The Question. Begging The Question will highlight that contribution for the original contributor, inviting them to add more information, and produce a point for both original Contributor and the Clarifier, adding two to the group score. The goal here is to develop curiosity instead of contradiction as the response to information that might disagree with the information you already have.

Begging the Question is a way to invite someone to add more information to a post, and it is only half of Clarifying. As the original Contributor of a post, if you tap the paperclip icon on one of your own contributions it will allow you to add a footnote to that contribution: a book source, a url, a little personal anecdote, or any combination of the three. You can add more information to a post whenever you feel like it, regardless of whether anyone Begs the Question, by the way.

Here’s an example:

I make a post that claims “gamification increases engagement,” and some insightful person might Beg The Question: Why do I think I know that gamification increases engagement? I hit the paperclip and cite Jane McGonigal’s great book Reality is Broken, include the url for her awesome TEDTalk, and then add a note about how this book is the reason I quit coaching soccer to become a technosocial psychologist. Each of those citations would get me another point, adding three points to the group score.

Conclusion

Ok, that is the basis of how the scoring works on the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Reality. You get points for everything you say, and you get more points if other people like what you say. You can remove anything someone else says that you don’t like, but the conversation gets more points if you respond with curiosity. You can always add more information to a statement after the fact, scoring more points every time you bring more depth through citation.

Part of responsibility and privilege of creating conversations needing a Captain to start things in the technical sense, but part of it is also a real world sociological phenomenon: someone is usually responsible for transforming a shared moment into a conversation. There is not a single thing wrong with a quiet shared moment, may your lives be well punctuated with such, but that isn’t the point of a conversation platform.

Where ever you find yourself quietly absorbing information with someone else, that is now an opportunity for a Guide conversation.

Want to make sure that document really got read at the office? Have a conversation with the people who needed to read it, each having the opportunity to share their perspective, highlights, and critiques while knowing exactly how much time they will have to devote to this conversation. Because there is a literal timer counting down to close the conversation and let you get on with everything else you are doing.

Sitting around watching the game at the bar? Fire up some quick 5 minute conversations about who is going to win the title, who’s the best player, your all time starting lineup, and leave the conversation with the transcripts including everyone else’s citations. Become better equipped for future conversations with every passing conversation.

Tired of fighting your class to get the phones put away? Launch a couple convos and encourage them to put those mini supercomputers to better use by having two teams compete to discuss the lecture/video/presentation the best. Have multiple classes? Even better! Compete across classes for daily high scores!

You will know much better than we do which areas of your life could benefit from some genuine digital depth. If you think the Guide can help, it probably can. Drop me a line and we can figure out how.

We want to know what kind of conversations we could have if we approached a conversation as something we built together, instead of something we fought to dominate. We think gamification can help us get there. Feel free to take our shiny new beta out for a spin at chat.hgtr.co.