Gamification, Reality TV, and Reiss’s 16 Intrinsic Motivators

24 10 2010

Steven Reiss is a professor of Psychology at Ohio State University and author of several books including  The Normal Personality.

Based on research from over 6,000 participants, Reiss suggests that intrinsic motivators, or those reasons people hold for initiating and performing voluntary behavior,  can be described as 16 basic desires.

These desires are:

(click on chart for higher resolution)

In this multifaceted model, these basic intrinsic desires directly motivate a person’s behavior. The unique combination and ranking of these desires determine our individuality and uniqueness.  Although people may also be motivated by non-basic desires, Reiss suggests it may be a means to achieve an even deeper basic motivation.

From a Gamification standpoint, it is especially interesting to note that Reiss models a close association between the basic desire for social contact with the need to play or to have fun.   If our social needs are genetically intertwined with play, it may add another lens to the importance of multiplayer relationships in game design.

The 16 desires give us a better understanding of variability in designing systems for engagement.  Reiss suggests that the enormous differences in what makes people happy make it unreasonable to factor out extrinsic incentives such as money or grades as effective motivators.  Different people are motivated in different ways, and as Reiss wrote in an article in Psychology Today:

I [Reiss] object to intrinsic-extrinsic motivation because it offers “one size fits all” solutions for educating children and motivating adults. I believe, for example, that some children thrive with cooperative learning, others thrive with competitive learning situations, but intrinsic-extrinsic motivation theory wants all children to grow up with cooperative learning. In the name of self-determination, undermining theory imposes its values on others believing it is for their own good. I think undermining theory could be misused to teach children who are competitive by nature that something is wrong with them for enjoying competition.

How do these 16 desires affect our taste in media?  In 2004 Reiss and James Wiltz performed a study on Why People Watch Reality TV.  According to Reis, Media events like Reality TV repeatedly allow people to experience the 16 desires and joys and suggests that people select media to fulfill certain needs. These needs vary greatly from one individual to the next, however his data showed that the largest significant motive for watching reality television was social status.  Slightly less than the need for social status was the need for vengeance, or the desire to win. These same 2 high-ranking motivators may be the reason why we find early implementations of Gamification emphasizing achievements and status levels.

Consequently, it makes sense that media or subject matter that taps into all 16 basic desires have a higher chance of attracting more people.  In the case of Reality TV, Bryant Paul, a psychology professor at Indiana University suggests “The closer someone is to you, the easier it is to empathize, and really good empathy equals really good television.”  The same holds true in game design – the more the game mechanics echo our own intrinsic needs, the better the individual’s gaming experience.

Taking the 16 desires into popular game design, this chart shows how (for example) World of Warcraft addresses each motive:

(click on chart for higher resolution)

Reiss’s 16 basic desires can provide an effective framework for measuring how successfully an application covers the range of intrinsic motivators. Using this framework should allow you to evaluate your own application’s appeal and highlight areas of improvement.




2 responses

27 10 2010
APFIND - An account planning news community inspired by Digg™

Reiss’s 16 Intrinsic Motivators Via: @StratSynergy…

This article has been featured on APFIND – An account planning news community inspired by Digg™…

28 01 2013
The Psychology of Games « Instrumentality

[…] Professor of Psychology, Steven Reiss, has performed a survey to find the important intrinsic motivators of people who are regularly engaging in voluntary behavior. Sharleen Sy has derived a chart to show how the game designers of World of Warcraft have implemented game mechanics to respond to those motivational needs. It can be found here. […]

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