How to Gamify Anything

Want to turn a ho-hum gathering into a sparkling event? Gamify.

Follow me if you want to learn how I transform mundane activities to special occasions with gaming.

I have this uncanny knack to gamify anything. I suppose I’m a bit competitive, but I swear it’s healthy! Girl Scouts honor!

I gamify small activities throughout the day just to keep me interested in the mundane task. Much of it has to do with time. For instance: How fast can I clean up my desk in 15 minutes? You’d be surprised how fast 15 minutes fly by! Much like deadlines, I love the hear the swoosh as they whiz past.

Gamify is a new buzz word in the tech industry.

The challenge for businesses who want to attract millennials is to capture their attention and keep it long enough to engage with their brand. The only way to do this for the squirts who have the attention span of a gnat is to create a game with their service or product.

This year, in my new city of Seattle I wanted to throw a birthday party for myself.

For the most part, I am not completely thrilled with my birthday (dysfunctional family and all that) but I do enjoy making new friends. So, with the few folks I can now call friends, I invited them over to enjoy homemade chocolate cake, wine, beer, and some nosh. I took advantage of the rooftop clubhouse called the Lighthouse in our apt building. I reserved the space that includes a kitchenette, living room, tabletop shuffleboard, flat screen tv, and music adapter. This is the top floor that has sweeping views of Seattle. One friend calls it ‘the million dollar view.’ Yah, we certainly have that!

Another part of my new life is that I want to get to know as many progressive people as possible.

Red_Sky_Dancer__41820.1360367700.1280.1280As a couple of introverts, we tend to stay in. Because Seattle is filled with way too much to do, we still have to make plans to get out. It’s a real struggle for introverts. Honest to Goddess. I have about 2 hours of public face time a day and then I’m depleted of energy. Imagine me as one of those tall red scary inflatable sky dancers you see at car dealerships dancing to the music that’s playing on your car radio. Suddenly, when the power is cut off… pffffffsttttttttthhhhh! Down I go.

So, when I decided to throw this party, I’m reminded that it’s usually the hostess who sets the energy level.

The first thing we needed to sort out was how the guests were going to make it to the rooftop without an escort. Andrew insisted that someone was going to have to play doorman and escort, running up and down like a madman. I insisted that there was a better way.

My inner creative likes to take quiet time to identify the challenge and then provide several solutions. The easiest way was to design wayfinder signs.

But how were my guests going to know these signs were for them?

I have a cartoon character named FatCat that I’ve been cultivating over the past few months. While I have indoctrinated FatCat to my new business as a coach and guide, I took the liberty of using him in my private party.

My art, my executive decision. 🙂

As I designed the wayfinder signs, I decided to continue FatCat cheekiness. My adult friends are pretty low-key individuals. After long days working for the man, they’re pretty tired, too. Labelling my friends as party animals is the anthesis of their demeanor.  I wanted to transform the prejudice of their difficult day into a sigh of relief.

When my friends as guests reached the lobby doors, they were greeted with FatCat and his various sign instructions.

I realize now that if my reserve signed said, “Reserved for Party Animals,” it would have been very charming. Alas… Hindsight and all that.

Once the wayfinder signs were produced, I needed to solve the challenge of getting my guests passed the secure apartment doors.
Graphic InviteEach major entrance has modern call boxes that allows one to scroll through tenant names. Each tenant has a dedicated 3 digit code that you can press on the screen that calls my mobile phone. Once I’m cognizant enough to realize that it’s the front door calling me and not some random fax, I press a number to buzz the doors open. This took a few tries but I finally got the hang of it. So glad it wasn’t raining!!

To skip the nuisance of scrolling through the hundreds of names, I sent my guests a graphic that includes FatCat and directions on how to get in.

You may not think that the above story was about gamifying. But in a UX (usability) sense, it is. I gamified my challenge to move guests from outside a locked building to the rooftop without any human intervention.

Were there hiccups in the process of this minor experiment? Sure. But the results were at least 80% successful. That’s a win in my book.

The following story outlines how I recovered a potentially boring party into a sparkling event.

This event was filled with the requisite food and drink that one would have at any birthday party. But this birthday party was for adults who knew very little of each other. The one thing that brought them together was me and the reason for that was celebrating my existence in a new city. I suppose we could discuss birth and rebirth, but that gets too spiritual for my tastes, not to mention biblical. Yack.

As I devise a plan for fun, I think of games.

My first go-to is Cards Against Humanity, but I have to be among friends to consider such a raucous activity. So, that’s out. Board games? Nah, too confined. Karaoke? Nope. Charades? Nope.

I look around my apartment for an object to launch an idea.

A-ha! I found my tired pad of Seattle themed Madlibs I bought last year at the local Bartells the first week we moved in. I wanted to get to know Seattle as quickly as possible. I thought that taking this into the bedroom and converting it into naughty Madlibs would be a sexy play with my favorite husband. We played it a few times and then it became my overlarge coaster for my water glass.

Now, to turn this tired game into a satisfying event for everyone, I had to create a strategy for the game. Based on my experience in design usability (UX), there are a few things I had to evaluate fast. Moreover, time and energy are two areas to consider within the territory of play and mind games. So,

  • What’s the premise of the game? Make a single premise or your guests get confused.
  • What’s the ultimate goal? Make it clear, make it easy.
  • Do we pit the guests against each other like dodgeball or to the game itself like golf?
  • What various hurdles do the challengers have to jump over to pass to the next section for the game?
  • How many hurdles are there? The fewer hurdles, the lesser the prize.
  • What relationship do the hurdles have to the goal?
  • How much time do you have to play the game? Unless the night is about one big game, make the game short in the grand scheme of the night.
  • How strenuous is the challenge? Be mindful of the clothing your guests are wearing and their physical limitations.
  • Will the guests be willing to play after a long day at work? Assume their day was exhausting and have very little energy in reserve.

Additionally, have a balance of wins and rewards. Don’t make your guests think too hard. Guests don’t want to look foolish and an exhausted brain tends to generate increased vulnerability.

I know that my guests have a sense of humor; I wouldn’t befriend them if they didn’t have one. Unsure of how wide or deep their humor lies, I as the hostess give them humor parameters. I encourage irreverence. This tells them a little something about me –as if they didn’t already know- and I learned this from playing Cards Against Humanity. The strategy is that the players (challengers) must know the dealer well. The better you know the dealer, the greater chance you have to appeal to his/her sense of values –and dark humor.

Second, I know that I cannot dominate their time. I want them to have fun and not be at the mercy of my medieval whim as though one were held hostage with Caligula.

For the sake of brevity, the game has one short premise.  

Complete the Seattle theme Madlibs anonymously and I must guess who wrote it. Use words only I would know to help me identify you. This gives them an opportunity to reach back into our shared experiences and generate a new story. The object is that they want me to guess who they are so they win a prize. The prize is of my choosing. Naturally, it came from my treasure chest of handcrafted gifts. Because I have an abundance of CalligraphyDog note cards, I brought enough to gift each guest -and they did have to work for it. 😉


I wrote the rules on an envelope.
The reality is that I printed the envelopes with the rules because of my degrading handwriting and stuffed a random Seattle theme Madlibs sheet into it. I presented a time limit because I wanted to read them aloud at the party. This would give everyone a chance to laugh and take home a prize.

Laughter is a big part of my life because this helps everyone relax and let our guard down together.

As I read each one aloud, my friends got to enjoy each story unfold as it was written. Usually, I’m damn good at site reading -my music background taught me that. But after one glass of wine on an empty stomach, I got loopy. I could still site read but I wasn’t really comprehending the story. I heard laughter on occasion and I hoped that laughter was with me and not about me. ;/ I doubt it though because no one has the ability to mock as well I as I do.

Competitive, much? Nah. It’s a natural talent.

The first three set the tone of the difficulty. I’m surrounded by smart friends and they made this tough for me to guess the writer. (Hmm… perhaps I just found a new name for the game: Guess the Writer.) As I completed each Madlib, I studied the handwritten words. I hoped one would jump out at me to announce the writer.

I couldn’t guess the first three correctly so I set them aside and continued to the fourth. Huzzah! I guessed the writer. Shew! I guess what they say is true about audience participation: my guests were rooting for me and wanted me to win.

So, this gave me the start of my dopamine drip. My brain started to induce a feel-good state that overrode my loopiness. Huzzah again! Suddenly, I was on a roll. I correctly guessed the following 5 anonymous writers. Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah! It was like I had coerced the one arm bandit into giving me bells and whistles and triple cherries on the dial. My guests were amazed at my skillfulness and frankly, so was I.

I returned to the last three.

It was down to my husband, my cousin and his wife. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I didn’t recognize my husband’s handwriting. Then again, I was loopy. I looked over the 3 side by side and then recognized the rounded lettering. Yep. That is Andrew’s! Interestingly enough, I didn’t guess my cousin or his wife’s writing either until the very end. I had to guess between the two and remembered that she said that she doesn’t swear. One of the Madlibs including the word “f*cking” and that’s how I was able to decipher my cousin from his wife.

In the end, the game was a rousing success -at least I think it was. Keeping the usability challenge super simple is key and that’s tough -almost as tough as my smart friends.

As I sit in my car today, I’m gamifying.

Those tall inflatable characters in front of car dealerships that I referenced earlier? I watch how they find the tempo of the music floating in my car streaming from Sirius XM.


It doesn’t take much for me to smile at the silliness and coincidence of the dance. It’s almost like a dance off against the traffic light. As I sit at the light watching this goofy air filled cartoon flip and flop street side, my husband and I are taking bets on whether the light will change before the dance off finishes. Meanwhile, we begin to chair dance in our own seats and sing along with the tune. Okay, let’s be real -I’m the only one chair dancing like a dork.

Three things we learned today (plus an additional 4):

  • How to turn a ho-hum party into a sparkling event
  • Anything in life can be gamified
  • Create a single premise
  • Don’t hold your guests hostage like medieval Caligula
  • Be mindful of the time and energy to keep stress levels low
  • Be sure your guests are willing to play
  • Have great parting gift prizes

Thanks so much for playing along!!! Have a great night and don’t forget to spay and neuter your pets!!

Saying Good Night and Good Luck!

Cheers, Lisa

3 thoughts on “How to Gamify Anything

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