FOMO Arigato – Gamification Discussion #3

Have you ever experienced FOMO?  It is an acronym for the “fear of missing out.”
FOMO can impact us all in many different ways, but it usually is surrounding an activity you were invited to, that for whatever reason you can’t attend.

While your friends are out enjoying a night of bowling, you are stuck at home studying for an exam, cleaning up after a busy week, or staying late at work.  It sucks.

But… you don’t even like bowling.  You hate asking for bumpers because it is embarrassing, but more times than not you end up watching your ball slowly but surely creep over to the gutter, and hitting a single pin is a victory.

Maybe you are friends with Jerry, and he invited you, but Jerry’s friends (the ones you know will be bowling with him) are rude, uninteresting, or just not really into the same things as you.

Yet… I still REALLY want to go!

Given everything you know about yourself and the activity you are “missing,” the logical conclusion should be “I wouldn’t have had that much fun anyway.”  However, that doesn’t seem to make it suck less does it?

FOMO is a perfect example of the core drive Avoidance.  One of the several classifications of incentive I have spoken about in the past.

For anyone with a business or psychology lesson under their belt you may know the Sunk Cost bias, and that exists because of this behavior driver.

As FOMO manifests we are often helpless to reason our way out of feeling this sense of loss.  It can be so strong that we find ourselves doing something we don’t enjoy, with people we mostly don’t get along with and wondering “why am I here?”

Avoidance is an example of a “Black Hat” driver.  While the example of empowerment is a “White Hat” driver, and makes the participant feel good to drive behavior, a Black Hat driver does the opposite.  You are motivated to act because of a negative feeling.

In the case of FOMO, we are driven to do something to avoid this sense of loss.

A gut reaction to “Black Hat” drivers is typically something along the lines of: “I would never do that to someone playing my games,” “is that ethical?” or maybe even “I have you now Mr. Bond!”

Even if you don’t identify as a super-villain I assure you, there is a lot of good to come from Black Hat motivators.

A great example is “time out.”  When raising a child there comes a time when “Because I said so” loses it’s weight, and to elicit the proper behavior the threat of “time out” does the trick.  Because the child understands time out, he/she will be more likely to behave in the desired way to avoid it.

I’ve seen this impact gamer friends as well.  Why try a new game when we have already put so much time into this one?  I am decently skilled, and I’ve unlocked all these cool skins or champions, so why start from level one?
Even with convincing arguments that the game we have been playing has flaws, and the new game is engaging and fun, the avoidance of “losing” all the time and effort put into the first game keeps you playing it.

As a game designer it becomes very enticing to build this sort of driver into my game.  If my players acted rationally they would go play something else, and I’ve worked Very hard to make a game that is fun to play, so why should I feel bad for doing whatever I can to keep them coming back?

Black Hat motivators are a part of our everyday life (FOMO specifically rears it’s ugly head frequently on the weekends).  They typically fall into the same category as a “white lie,” or a “necessary evil.”  I don’t want to advocate assault, but how many people do you know would benefit from a swift kick in the bum?

There are other Black Hat drivers that I will discuss, so hold final judgment until we can cover them all, but how you feel about this form of motivation will have a huge impact on your game design.  For my non-game designers, being aware of these drivers can help you either understand and empathize, or help you reason your way out of falling for Sunk Cost Bias among other things.

Reality isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.  Understanding the dark arts can be extremely useful even if you swear off using them.

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar











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