Yang Gang is treatment for depression

“Joining the Yang Gang literally ended my depression”.
There are many similar stories of people who become much happier when they join the Yang Gang. But why is it that simply becoming part of a presidential campaign can affect your mental state?

Yang gang cured depression
Reddit post on r/YangForPresidentHQ on Nov 30 2019

The answer is that the Yang Gang is using “White Hat” motivation which makes you happier. Many other things in your daily life use “Black Hat” motivation instead, making you dissatisfied.

Knowing this, we can also figure out which mental health effects that the Freedom Dividend (UBI) will have.

Agents of depression – Black Hat motivation

We get the answer from the Octalysis Framework of human motivation. More specifically the Octagon, a model of the 8 Core Drives which are the sources of all motivation.
This model states that not all sources of motivation are healthy, in fact an overexposure to Black Hat Core Drives will first cause stress, then eventually burnout (which can result in mild or severe depression).

The octagon – 8 Core Drives

There are many things in our everyday lives which motivate us by Black Hat Core Drives – those in the bottom of the octagon shape.

The Core Drive (CD) called Scarcity and Impatience is used by shops to make you buy their products. If there are only a few items for sale (often the case for hotel rooms, airplane tickets), then there is a scarcity of items, and you think twice before rejection the offer.

In the same way, every time limited offer trigger your impatience. You don’t want to wait until the offer come around next time (especially if it’s a once in a year offer).

Another Black Hat CD called Unpredictability and Curiosity. Curiosity is constantly driving us to use social media, or watch TV series, or even check news sites compulsively.
It’s unpredictability that makes gambling fun – and addictive.

Finally, the “blackest” of the CD’s is Fear of Loss and Avoidance. Got a deadline at work? That’s fear of loss. Not speaking up in class because of potential humiliation? Also fear of loss. Spending several minutes waiting in line to the elevator instead of taking the stairs a few floors up? That’s probably avoidance.

Remember that it isn’t the things we DO that are black hat. We get stress and burnout because of WHY we do those things.

White Hat – the Power of Games


Fortunately, not all motivation is Black Hat. The other kind is White Hat Core drives. And they REDUCE our stress and anxiety levels.

You can think of this as eating, white hat CD’s are the healthy fruits and vegetables, while black hat is overly processed food, poor in nutrients and full of fat and sugar.

There healthy CD’s has been discovered through gamification – looking at the power games has to make us motivated, engaged and happy. And sometimes reality is as good as a game.

Epic Meaning of the Yang Gang

The first White Hat CD is called Epic Meaning and Calling. So the point about Epic Meaning is that you contribute to something that is greater than yourself.

So let me explain why joining the Yang Gang has proved such a healing experience for some.

  1. The vision of making the United States a better place is a meaningful cause – beyond the individual.
  2. Ambitious goals like eliminating poverty makes the vision more epic.
  3. As Andrew Yang trusts the Yang Gang to win the presidency – you don’t just cheer for a campaign, you ARE the campaign.

Being in a place where your actions contribute to an epic goal, that would transform the lives of ordinary people for the better – that’s the experience that every game tries to create. Because it ensure people that their lives and actions matter – and gives them a purpose.

Just in case you forgot how important purpose is, I put Agent Smith is here to remind you


While Epic Meaning is by far the most powerful White Hat motivation of the Yang Gang, it’s not the only one.
Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback has the same power to provide happiness.

You get a small dose of creativity each time you write a Twitter message. And you get a small dose of Feedback when watching the the likes, retweets and replies to the message.

However, to unlock the true power of Creativity, you have to be a content creator. Make memes, record YouTube videos, do infographics or write blogs.
Take a great effort in creating something, and you will be rewarded with happiness.
Especially if people engage with your creations, and provide positive feedback for your next project.

Take care of yourself

In conclusion, being Yang Gang is a positive thing. However, the Black Hat motivations are still present.

Obsessively monitoring Twitter and other social media sites from Curiosity can bring you down. Especially if you keep engaging in unwinnable discussions with stubborn users (there are a lot of those on the internet…)

The most dangerous thing is fear of loosing. If you ever find yourself acting out of fear that Yang would lose – take a step back and relax. Then think of all the positive effects that the policies of Yang will have.

Finally, if anyone post on social media about “how Yang will lose” if you don’t act right now – you have to tell them off!
Humanity first of cause. They probably mean well, they just have zero knowledge of how motivation works. You give them the data.

Interested in Yang Gang? Maybe you would like to read What a dynamic movement looks like

Bo Paivinen is a certified gamification designer, as well as a danish Yang2020 supporter.

What a dynamic movement looks like

In many ways, the Yang2020 political campaign aka the Yang Gang is extremely different from other campaigns. For one, it doesn’t run on name recognition, political alliances or big donors at all, it is a grassroots campaign. But it’s not just any grassroots campaign, it is an extremely powerful movement, which has only reached a fraction of it’s potential numbers.

Being part of the Yang Gang as a European for Yang has taught me a lot of lessons about my subject of interest: motivation. And I believe I got some golden insights into the nature of powerful once-in-a-generation movements.

What does success look like?

I’m sure you want to know why Yang Gang has the power to be comparable with the great civil rights movements and other once in a generation movements. And why it greatly surpasses both the Sanders2016 and MAGA campaigns.

Here is 9 power indicators of the Yang Gang, of which only a few are true of Sanders or Trump followers.

  • From zero to hero:
    Andrew Yang went from zero name recognition and no elected office to consistently polling at 5th or 6th in the democratic primaries of around 20 candidates (all of which have had a top political career). Fundraising is also at 5th or 6th, and Yang has qualified for every democratic debate (all data as of late November 2019).
  • Many conversions of “enemies”:
    Imagine that someone say that they have only ever voted Republican, but they will vote for Yang over Trump, and even register democrat to vote in the primary.
    Well, this happens almost daily on Twitter with new people.
    Polls also consistently show that Yang would be the best or second best candidate for turning Trump followers in a general election.
  • Cross-ideological alliance:
    Most other candidates choose one core ideological group that they engage, either democratic moderates or progressives.
    Yang is unique in that the Yang Gang consist of both moderates, progressives, libertarians, conservatives and ex-MAGA.
  • Energy of followers:
    The Yang Gang is extremely energetic. They produce huge amounts of memes, infographics and other stuff to share on social media.
    Or watch a Yang rally on YouTube – contrast with any other political rally, and observe the difference in enthusiasm and energy.
  • Discipline of followers:
    From trending hashtags on Twitter, winning online polls and app competitions, to reaching fundraising goals, the Yang Gang self-organise to do what is needed.
    Or take the TV clips with Yang interviewed with Yang Gang around him – who stay completely silent until he is done speaking, then break out in cheers.
    Smaller actions on the ground are also self-organised along with accommodation for the people who want to come to an early voting state, and stay for canvassing.
  • Positive reactions:
    From what I have read from canvassers, phone and text bankers, it seems like the reactions they get from contacting people are a lot more positive than what other political campaigns get. People are genuinely interested in Yang Gang.
  • Huge conversion rate:
    I only have indirect evidence for this, but my impression is that whenever a person hears about Yang and his policies, he or she is very likely to join the Yang Gang soon after. This is in contrast to every other candidate in the primary.
  • Dedicated followers:
    Out of all candidates, the followers of Yang are least likely to change their vote to any other candidate. This has been confirmed by several polls.
  • Likeability:
    Yang was just confirmed as the most likeable (or “least unlikeable”) of all democratic candidates, meaning that supporters of other candidates view him with respect and not hostility.
  • Success despite the media:
    The Yang Gang has not gotten anything for free. Yang got the least amount of speaking time at the debates of all qualified candidates. He also had the worst ratio of TV coverage to polling result (times mentioned per polling percent point) of any candidate. With such a low level of interest/support from the TV stations, it is a show of strength to stay at 5th to 6th place in the 20 candidate race.

The reason for greatness

So what are the secrets of the Yang Gang? Using my knowledge of the Octalysis framework for motivation, I got a pretty good idea about which characteristics are key to the success of the movement.

You need to keep in mind that Yang got 150 policies fleshed out, so he has had to prioritise what his message would be. Which is true for a lot of campaigns or organisations: they have a lot of positions and messages, and have to decide what they will put at center stage.

If you are unfamiliar with the framework, here is a key to interpret the Core Drive abbrevations:
CD1: Epic meaning/calling, CD2: Development/accomplishment, CD3: Creativity/feedback. CD4: Ownership/possession, CD5: Social relatedness, CD6: Scarcity/impatience, CD7: Unpredictability/curiosity, CD8: Loss/avoidance.

Central message

The first part is about the central message of the Yang2020 campaign – why is it so powerful?

  • New/different:
    It is hard to create a movement about something that has been seen and tried before. Automation as threat, and Universal Basic Income as solution are surprising messages for a political campaign. There is curiosity, but there is also the unpredictability – anything new might have potential to change everything.
  • Dystopian now, utopian future:
    Any movement need to engage supporters urgently by communicating how bad the current situation is, and that it’s spiralling out of control. But to avoid burn-out, there need to be a positive vision that the movement can prevent the catastrophe, and bring about a bright and wonderful future. This is a CD8/CD1 combo.
  • A hidden but obvious threat.
    In Andrew Yang’s case the threat is “job loss to automation”. I think every movement need to go against a threat that is being under-reported in the news and under-discussed by politicians. But at the same time so obvious that most people will agree when you point it out – it is in agreement with their everyday experience.
  • Condemn structures, not people
    Some campaigns (Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump) manage to do well by being “them vs. us”, identifying their enemies as “capitalists”, “billionaires” or “the swamp”. But a truly engaging movement tone down the idea of competition, partisanship or violent strife (which is black-hat CD5).
    This open the movement up to many people who would be put off by a very confrontational “you are with us or you are against us” message. Example in point: political movements for change (like democratic reform) perform better (higher chance of success) when they stay non-violent rather than take up arms. It is easier to attract people to your movement when you hold the moral high ground.
  • Truth and facts on our side.
    The campaign message is always being presented with data, which is a great way of making it more believable. Yang knows the data by heart. When he is unafraid to enter honestly into debates, and talk data rather than opinion, it cements the impression that you are fighting for Truth on top of the other fights. Very CD1.

Leader qualities

This part is dedicated to the things that Yang does as leader, candidate and public face of the Yang Gang. I do not include more traditional leadership qualities like “well-structured”, only those that directly help him communicate the message of the movement in an effective way.

  • Anti-stereotype:
    People have filters that rapidly makes them embrace or reject messages or people. If people can put someone in a category quickly because they fit a stereotype “typical democratic politician”, then they are not likely to actually listen to the message.
    Not fitting in to a stereotype makes people curious and willing to listen to Yang.
    From not wearing a tie to crowdsurfing, to dancing, Yang break the stereotype of politicians in many ways.
  • Relateable:
    Although Yang has an Ivy League education and sky high IQ, he makes a point of speaking like an average person, leaving out academical and political lingo, and avoiding cliches. One reporter also joked that Yang “needs money for his swear jar” because he is not afraid of swearing on air.
  • Greater purpose:
    A point Yang often mentions is that he didn’t decide to run for president because he had a dream of becoming president. He is running because he is concerned about the issues, and convinced about the solutions of his campaign.
    While other candidates also pick a primary issue and solution, it often seems like the other way around – “I should be president – and these are the issues I am running to fix”.
  • Honesty:
    Yang just always seem honest, and I believe it is because he is exactly that.
    Connected to the point of greater purpose, other candidates often seem to dishonestly take any position they believe will win them votes. And downplay any previous positions they held, when those positions are unpopular.
    Yang is true to the issues and solutions he believe in, and will not downplay them.
  • Directness:
    Yang does not avoid hard questions – which is really unusual in politics. People are so used to politicians avoiding to answer questions directly, that a direct answer seems surprising.
  • The adult in the room:
    What Yang manages to do in debates is to come across as the most rational, self-controlled, responsible and constructive participant. And no, he keeps the swearing out of the debates.
    While he has criticised Elisabeth Warrens’ billionaire tax, he did that without turning it into a personal attack. In the same way, Yang has often criticised the way other candidates attack Donald Trump or each other. “This does not solve any of the problems on the ground that got Donald Trump elected.”.
    He even defended candidate Tom Steyer against attacks at a debate, proving his honesty on this point.
    By being the adult, Yang makes the other candidates look like children.
  • Data-focused:
    If there is one thing Yang absolutely loves, it is data. For every argument he makes, he cites data to prove his point. He is also not afraid of discussing the data.
    This reinforce his honesty – he believes he is right because he got the data to prove it, and he trust that the data will always prove his positions right.
    Being open to change policies if proven wrong by data is part of this.
  • Non-combative, non-divisive:
    Whenever Yang speaks, it is with a “we’re in this together”, “we need to fix the system” tone. He avoid to respond with a combative tone when getting critical or even unfair questions, and he especially avoids an “us vs. them” narrative.
    Even though he often singles out Jeff Bezos (because Amazon paid zero federal taxes last year), he doesn’t demonize him. An example of this is when he mentions that Jeff will also receive the 1000$ Freedom Dividend “just to remind him that he is an American”.

Campaign structure

With the strong points of the message and Andrew Yang himself covered, here are finally the strong points that relates to the structure of the campaign.

  • Social connectedness, social proof.
    I think this is the most addictive movement I have been part of, mainly due to it’s huge social presence on Twitter. When you read many messages in support of the movement every day, it galvanise you, and encourage you to make your own contribution.
    Yang Gang is very good at promoting “remember to follow other blue hats (Yang Gang)” – this leads to many messages about Yang Gang stuff every day.
    Also, Yang Gang can ratio (out-number) any tweet critical of Yang, which is very encouraging and great social proof every time.
  • The followers are the campaign
    In Andrew Yang’s words: “The Yang Gang has the job of winning me the presidency. My job is to make your job easier – by being the best candidate I can be.”  It could not be communicated any more clearly that being Yang Gang is not a spectator sport. Being engaged in something happens mostly when you take action, not when you simply watch passively.
    And there is always something to do on Twitter: hashtags to trend, news to share, attacks to defend against.
  • Decentralized
    There are very few commands given from Yang or the campaign manager.
    The main campaign (paid staff) also seem to have more of a supporting role (opening offices, making and buying adds, booking events), leaving much of the organizing to the volunteer Yang Gang.
  • Creativity.
    If people in the movement engage in creative acts, it will inspire others engage in the movement – and to do their own creative acts.
  • A clear goal and obvious sub-goals.
    Winning the presidency for Andrew Yang is very well-defined, and has a limited time-frame. It leans to well-defined sub-goals (fundraising, poll results, qualifying for debates, winning early states)
    . This is of cause true of any political campaign, but these kinds of goals would be missing for many social, environmental or religious movements.

So I believe that these insights will be very valueable in my own project: the Teachers National Network for Gamification of Teaching. I hope they will also be useful to you.

If you want to know more about the Octalysis Framework which I used to make this analysis, check out my introduction to Octalysis.

The brilliance of They are Billions

A new RTS title from an unknown developer managed to gain tons of hype from game streamers, some of them StarCraft veterans – the dominating Esport game in the RTS genre.

So why did They are Billions make an impact in these game enthusiasts, when several hundred titles are released from unknown developers every year? (to be fair, Numantian Games had released one title before, but not one I have ever heard of).


The hype comes down to two extremely important game techniques, which this new zombie game introduce to the RTS genre.

A genre-defying pause

Real strategy games are put in two main categories: Turn-based and Real Time Strategy (RTS). In other words, whether the game world progress at all times, so in “real” time, or whether the player decide when to switch the turn, so that an amount of time will pass.

The benefit of real time is immersion – the people and vehicles move around in a real way, just like the view from a tower. Turn-based breaks immersion when units stand still most of the time, and only move in short sequences. But real time introduce a stress factor. Most RTS titles require the player to manage their economy by constructing buildings and researching upgrades at a good timing, at the same time that the player produce and control their army units.

For this reason, strategy often takes a backseat in importance, with multitasking skill and ability to execute standard procedures efficiently being the main characteristics of a good player. The turn-based games allow the player the room to think ahead – to actually plan a strategy in the middle of the game.

Now enter the first hero of They are Billions: The pause button.

Other RTS titles have the ability to pause, but it is often hidden, so that players feel like pausing is not part of the game, but just an option to get some tea and biscuits in the kitchen.

On the other hand They are Billions put the pause button right in on the interface, as a rather large button. It is also keyed to the space bar, just in case clicking with the mouse would be too much effort.

This forces the player to accept pausing as part of the game, and a good option whenever things get overwhelming and multitasking would otherwise be needed.

So the pause hero have effectively created a genre hybrid: a game with the immersion of an RTS, but keeping the focus on strategy and planning from the turn based genre. The best of two worlds, and surely a trick that other RTS games will copy in the future.

Vulnerability and fear

The second stroke of genius is tweaking the game mechanics to emphasize the fear in the zombie genre, by making the player vulnerable.

In a standard RTS game like Starcraft or Age of Empires, they base of the player is quite sturdy. If a few enemy units would walk into the base, it would take them a while to tear down the buildings, time enough that the defender would be able to move his army back.

The most vulnerable part of the player economy is not the buildings, but the workers. A few enemy units could quickly kill several workers, but only if the defender does not react and move them to safety.
Most RTS games are not lost or won because a player was too slow to defend his base, but rather because his entire army has been defeated, and he is left with nothing to defend with. So in some sense, the army is the most vulnerable thing the player control.

They are Billions turn this usual logic on it’s head. Even the most basic army units are quite durable. They can take several hits from the infected, at the same time that they have superior speed and range.

In contrast, the buildings are extremely vulnerable – especially the tent, which is a cheap option to expand the base. Whenever a zombie manage to overcome the defence of a building, the building become infected. This stop the building from functioning, but more importantly, the 4 to 10 inhabitants of the building are now zombies, making their way to the next building!
This very quickly spirals out of control, with each new infected building spawning more zombies inside the base. If the player does not have a sizeable army right next to the outbreak, it is game over.
Placement of units and walls are key, and if there is ever a hole in your defensive line, chances are high that you will lose.

But on the other hand, when the attack has been repelled, there is rarely any lasting damage. Player units are tough, and infected buildings just need a cheap “repair” procedure once any nearby zombies are gone.
I recently managed to save my base in the last moment, at 4 or 5 buildings infected. Extremely close to defeat, but my losses were minimal.

This dynamic is brilliant, because in a usual game the damage to my forces would have been so great that I would not have been able to win the game.
Losing from attrition in a game against AI hordes is not a fun way to lose. Too often RTS players end up in a situation where there is little chance they can win, but the game drag on for a long time before they finally lose.

For this reason, every battle has to be won at a good margin, coming close to defeat mean that you will lose in the long run, and you might as well quit.
But winning a close batte is exciting – still having a chance to beat the game makes it even better. And it’s just that kind of excitement that They are Billions bring to the RTS genre.

The full version of the game and it’s campaign mode is released today, so I’m off to enjoy this masterpiece at Steam.

Adding choice to exercises

This is the second part of the four synergetic gamified methods that I use for teaching. You can read about the first one here: Creating stories for teaching

With the story providing a reason to why the students should learn the theory at hand, the next task is to make the exercises more interesting. This is done by using a flexible structure, that allow students to choose between different exercises, and do them as fast as they want.

I described this earlier in the post Exploration of knowledge, but with my own experience in using the system, I’ve developed it further.

Like before, the system presents the students for exercises on a map. The students work in teams, and they are free to take on any exercise that they have unlocked.
Here is the new part: Everyone start every module by doing a common exercise. This common exercise can be the “minimum” that you require even the least ambitious student to do. When they are done, this exercise unlock new bonus exercises. They can also go back and to other exercises, that they didn’t finish in earlier modules.
structure of exercises

As you can see in the illustration, some of the bonus exercises unlock even more bonus exercises. Now the mid-students, who have time for more than the common exercises, but not enough to do every exercise, have meaningful choices. Do they want to go for exercises that are mainly calculations, some that require reading, well-written arguments or small experimental exercises?

What I like about this structure is the timing. Instead of having students progressing through the theory at different speeds, everyone will be at the same page. Some students have done more exercises in the last lesson, but they can all benefit from homework and a presentation about the theory for this lesson. You might even have students doing presentation about the bonus exercises, so that everyone get the information contained in them.

If you read about the first method, Creating stories for teaching, you will know that each part of the story should end with a major challenge, like an experiment. This is of cause a common “exercise”, as all students must complete it. It is also a good time to end the map, and begin a new one.

Example map, ready to use (in Danish)

So this is what a finished map could look like. You find a fitting map to use as a background, then put in text boxes and arrows on top of it. I use Publisher, but you can use your favorite image editor. Use Word only if you like pain. Then print the maps to the students, so that every group have one.

Since the example is in Danish, let me explain a bit. The text in large font represent the common exercises. Since I use a story in my teaching, they have a headline. The box below is what the students should do: read these examples and solve these exercises at this page.
There is also information about points – XP and GP, since I use Classcraft and award the students points for each exercise.

The arrows point to the bonus exercises that are made available, and the small boxes next to the exercise are used to mark the progress of the students.

A nice trick is to use a dice to pick which student in the group should present their work. If the student can’t do this with confidence, they need to try again. This ensures that everyone get an understanding of the solution that the group produced.

Want to know more? Read here about Gamification of teaching

Creating stories for teaching

I have been having great success in engaging my high-school students (age 16 to 18) in classroom activities, by combining four gamified methods.

Each of these work nicely on their own, but together it’s almost like having a magic wand of motivation. Today I will tell you how to use the first of these methods: the story.


I use a continuous storyline for my classes, one that begin the first day that I teach, until the end of their time with me. You don’t need this kind of commitment to the story, though. I also have a story that I run in 90 minutes for public school visitors, so the story can have any length.

A story gives the player a purpose, some epic meaning to what they do. For this reason, the students should always be the heroes of the story. And their heroic actions should fit together with the knowledge they get during classes.

I divide my stories into three elements: Setting, challenges and objectives.


The setting is the genre – like crime, sci-fi, fantasy – but also the details about the time and area that the story is set in.
An important detail when choosing a setting, is to find an excuse to why the knowledge of the students is so important. Why are they the smartest people around?
They might be the only people around, or maybe most other people do not have this kind of knowledge.

My own storyline is set in a time when nuclear war has wiped out all civilization, and humans live in small isolated communities. I took a lot of inspiration from the Fallout series on this, but changed the location (to Europe), which factions exist, level of technology (to fit with Classcraft) etc.



Now that the students is in a setting, what should they do?
I usually go around this part by examining my curriculum: What is the next thing that the students need to learn – then make a challenge and objective from that.

Example: The students should know about pressure and the force of buoyancy. A simple challenge would be to make a boat. Since I’m teaching physics and not carpentry, they would make relevant measurements on a small floating object instead, and use this to gain insight on how to build a proper boat.

I always try to make the challenge some kind of experiment, and you should do the same if your subject allow it. In other subjects the challenge could be a written product or a presentation.


Every challenge needs to be expressed as an objective in the story. In this case I presented it as an opportunity: Their community have always been cut off by a toxic river. With proper safe boats, they would be able to utilize the river for transportation, and the students would also be able to explore the other side of the river.

A different option would be to present the objective as a threat that needs to be overcome. I used this in the next part, where the river flooded a cellar full of supplies, and the students needed to build a pump. Yes, we did scale models again, but made some calculations on using oil barrels in the pump, which would give the proper volume for the task.

Now, I structure the story such that the students always know about their next objective. They might not know exactly what the challenge is, but they know what kind of knowledge they need to complete it. For this reason, they see all the theory they are taught, and all the exercises they do as preparation for the challenge.
The preparation stage is peppered with small stories of how the students need to earn the trust of the guardsmen to enter a colony (by sharing their knowledge), then they need to do the local wise man a favor, and finally he shares a new piece of theory with them.

I have had students telling me that physics became much more “down to earth”, when they were told stories about a post-nuclear future. Because they saw how the theory could solve problems in their own story.

Now that you know about the first gamified method, you are ready to read about the second: Adding choice to exercises.
Or maybe you want more details about how to Teach with a narrative.

Here are the other methods that I use in Gamification of teaching

Teach with a narrative

What if every student could be the hero in an epic story?

There is no reason why that could not be the case. All the teacher has to do is to frame the teaching into a narrative, and allow the challenges of learning to play into the story.

Is that easier said than done? Read about my experiences teaching physics to Danish high-school students.

Physics in the nuclear wasteland

My first decision was to use a post-apocalyptic setting: Human civilization has been destroyed by nuclear war, and the students are 3rd generation of survivors.


They are among the brightest of their generation, and have been taught all the scientific knowledge that their colony had access to: old books and knowledge passed down through the generations.
Now they have to use that knowledge to protect their colony from danger, and to cooperate with other colonies in order to reestablish civilization.

To get them going, their first objective was to save the colony from thirst. A drought had prevented the collection of drinking water from rain, and the colonist has to rely on the infested water sources they use for irrigation.

What the students then had to do in class was first to prove their knowledge to a nearby colony (by answering questions about electronics), who would in turn trust them to work with their electronic components.
Then they would have to perform several experiments and calculations, preparing them for building an automated system that would purify the water by heating it to 70 degrees, thereby killing all germs.
Finally, they had to make a presentation (given to me on video) describing the parts of the system and the physical theory. This was the requirement for bringing the purifier system back – the neighbor colony would need information to build their own system.

While this took a bit longer than I expected – I cut the work short before they got every part working – it was a nice practice in electronics.

Bringing the story to the classroom

The next part of the story was to be much longer, so I will not be detailing it this time.
But let me share the mechanics behind the story in the classroom:

Use illustrations

I found all of my illustrations at DeviantArt.com – and I aim to use at least one when I tell the story. They are great at igniting the imaginations of the students.

The drought

Random events

A simple story last longer when you don’t have to tell a new part every time you teach.
But then how do you remind the students what they are doing?
Simple – run a random event.
Make a list of things that could happen at any time in the story, like fighting with raiders or getting a reward from helping a merchant in distress.

Suddenly, raiders attack!

XP, gold and damage in Classcraft

To further motivate the students and add immersion, Classcraft was used. In every random event, and some story events, the students avatars are affected. They can take damage, gain XP or gold. They might even gain or lose action points (AP).

Since Classcraft is not a post-nuclear setting, I had to be creative to explain the visuals (and re-name all text items):
“Magic” powers are rare technology from the war. Ammunition and guns are rare and unreliable, so people use medieval-looking weaponry.


Track progress on a map

Combine the progress in solving problems with the progress in the narrative, by showing problems on a map.

What I have usually done is to have one set of problems that everyone must solve each module, and then present sidequests that the students can spend the rest of their available time on. Classcraft rewards makes sure that students do the sidequests.

Read more about using maps in class at Exploration of knowledge (though I used the similar Classcraft pro-feature “Quests” this time around).


Challenges of knowledge

I find that while learning equations and definitions by heart is boring, it is also an important part of physics. So in order to make it more fun, I introduced some story elements which would challenge the knowledge of the students.

One way to do this is the Classcraft pro-feature “Boss Fight”, in which random students or teams each take a round against the boss, taking or dealing damage by answering questions.

An even better way is to make a trivia card-game, in which each team collects questions and challenge other teams to a duel.
In my story, this kind of duel happens every time the students has to win the confidence of strangers, proving that they are honest seekers of knowledge.

If you liked all of this, I am sure you will love to read more about Gamification of teaching (link)

Got any questions? Make sure to ask them in the comments below

How to fix an overly left-brain student

I have had some frustrating experiences with very talented, but also very grade-focused students, which lead me to analyse the problem and its solution.

So we know from Octalysis that two kinds of motivation are left brain (extrinsic) motivation and right brain (intrinsic) motivation, and the ideal is to have a balance between the two.

What you encounter in teaching is that some students are extremely reliant on either the left or the right brain motivation, to the extend that it causes them trouble, even if they skilled at their subjects.

Today I will discuss the student that is overly left-brain, dominated by concrete and somewhat rational motivations to the exclusion of other motivators.
This student is focused on grades, and sees school work as a means to earn grades and a diploma, bringing access to further studies or a job. The focus will often be on the safe path, attempting to solve any problem exactly the way that the teacher imagined it should be done.
If the student is ambitious or dutiful, she might eventually be worn down by the workload, becoming a joyless person and even develop a depression. Studies by the researcher Skaalvik show that a considerable number of Norwegian students suffer from “performance pressure” related to their studies, which puts them at risk for developing psychiatric issues. Intrinsic right-brain motivation could prevent this fate, but the student will not seek this out on their own, being more focused on her grades (and other duties) than her own well-being.

A less ambitious student would not burn out the same way, but will instead annoy the teacher with a constant attitude of “what do I get out of it?” and “will this affect my grade?”. And he will of cause cut any corners he can while maintaining his grade.
Finally, intrinsic motivated students tend to forget everything they have learned shortly after a test or an exam, getting the grade was all that mattered, and after that the brain cleans out the “useless” information.

No matter the level of ambition, left-brain dominated students can be helped by the same approach. Of cause you need to offer them the antidote of intrinsic motivation: tasks that are interesting or fun because they involve creativity, social relations or curiosity.
For a talented student, this could be doing a different assignment than the rest of the class, one that involves more research and independent thought than standard work.
The critical part is that you have to convince the student that she will get (at least) the same out of doing the fun thing, that she doesn’t simply run a huge risk of failure with this choice.

Then the rational thought of the student will be this: “I can do this boring task, or this interesting task. If both tasks takes the same effort, and gives me the same reward, then of cause I should do the interesting task.”
This is the way to lead a too rational, left-brain dominated student to start getting some intrinsic motivation. With a bit of luck, he will discover that studying can be interesting and fun, and seek out more ways to have fun on his own.

Looking for more content about gamified teaching? Check out the blog post Exploration of knowledge

or all blog posts about gamified teaching:  Gamification of teaching (link)

What is your enneagram type?

The enneagram is a nice system of personality types, that could give you some insightful advice in your personal development. There are several free online quizzes to find your type, like this one: https://www.enneagram.net/tests/index.html

You can think of the type of the Enneagram as ponies.


Post your type name now (use the cheat-sheet below if you are unfamilliar with the characters of My Little Pony):

  1. Princess Celestia
  2. Big McIntosh
  3. Applejack
  4. Rarity
  5. Twilight Sparkle
  6. Rainbow Dash
  7. Pinky Pie
  8. Trixie
  9. Fluttershy

The tube race Octalysis

Imagine yourself in a futuristic race inside a tube. The tube twists and turns at every point, and you try to follow it with your hovering vehicle. It seems inevitable that you will make contact with the sides. And now you really wish the tube has some soft bumpers…


Now this situation is a metaphor for any task, job or project you will attempt to deal with. The four sides of the tube – up, down, left and right – corresponds to four inefficiency catastrophes. And fortunately, every pitfall has a series of bumpers that can save you from that grisly fate.



The top bumpers will save you from burn-out, and giving up on the project. They are called white hat core drives, and go by the names of core drive 1: Epic meaning and calling, 2: Development and accomplishment and 3: Empowerment of creativity and feedback.

On the bottom are the bumpers that will save you from procrastination, and never getting started with the project. Their names are core drive 6: Scarcity and impatience, 7: Unpredicatability and curiosity, 8: Avoidance of loss. Collectively they are known as the black hat core drives.

The left side bumpers have the power of focusing your energy to the essential tasks, not wasting valuable time on useless details. Some of them has been mentioned already. Yes, some core drives can save you more than one time! They are great that way…
Core drive 2: Development and accomplishment, 4: Ownership of possession, 6: Scarcity and impatience. By the way they are “left brain” drives.


Finally the right side is for you too-efficient people, who forget to stop and think if your idea really is the best way of doing the project. Saving you from over-focusing on a single task, and let you remember the greater picture. In other words, it will broaden your mind.

On top of that, these core drives is what makes the project fun!
Their proper names are core drive 3: Empowerment of creativity and feedback, 5: Social influence and relatedness, 7: Unpredicatability and curiosity.
And… you guessed it, they are the right brain core drives.

So now that you know the cures, you should start analysing your problems. What is the problem that is limiting you in your current project? Or maybe the problem isn’t you. You are motivated and efficient. The problem is your students, your clients or your employees.
Well, same thing applies. Identify which problem is the main devastator of efficiency, and work to apply the cure.

Oh, did I forgot to explain the core drives in detail? And how to apply them to a project? Well, all of that information can be found at the main page of Octalysis, nifty link here: http://yukaichou.com/

Looking for other great posts about gamification of education?
Go to Overview of the blog

Thermal Showdown

An educational card game of physics

The basic idea

To make a collectible cards game about physics, specifically regarding thermodynamics at high school level.

Thermal Showdown is a game set in a duel between two mad scientists in their battle-suits. The battle-suits are impenetrable, so each scientist is trying to overheat the other into a blackout.

The gameplay is reminiscent of such games as Pokemon, Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone.

Notice: This post refer to the first version of Thermal Showdown.
Find updated info and cards here: Thermal Showdown info

Fancy cards example v2
Note that this design is work in progress (working on getting licensing for images), current alpha version has more simple black-and-white design

Example of play

To get a good impression of the game, and learn to play in record time, read through this example. Don’t worry if it seems long, most of it is pictures 🙂

Notice: This post refer to the first version of Thermal Showdown.
Find updated info and cards here: Thermal Showdown info

The rules

Battle cards basic stats:

  • Energy cost (to play)
  • Defence stats:
    • Heat Capacity (HC)
    • Maximum difference in temperature (dT)
  • Offence stats:
    • Output power (OP)
  • Special abilities

Basic gameplay:

Setting up the game

  • Each player starts with all his cards in his main pile, shuffled and face down.
  • Each player draw 7 cards from his main pile into his hand.

Every round the active player

  • reset available energy and any activated cards
  • increase his available energy by one – so available energy equal to round nr.
  • pick up one card from his main pile of cards.
  • play a number of cards from his hand limited by his available energy
    • Battle Cards: are on the table until defeated
    • Trick Cards: are used once – some may permanently empower a Battle Card
  • attack with a number of battle cards (not cards played this round)
  • battle cards that has “activate to…” may only activate if they did not attack, and if they were not played this round.
  • end the round, starting the round of the next/other player.

In combat

  • Attacking battle cards may target any battle card
  • Players may only be targeted if there are no defending battle cards
  • When a battle card is targeted, attacker and defender apply their damage = OP to each other.
  • If a card takes at least the same damage in one round as it’s combined defence value, HC*HT, it is defeated.
  • If a player takes damage, it is summed up. When the player reach 20 damage, he is defeated.
  • When a battle card is defeated, it is placed in its player’s discard pile along with any attached trick cards.
  • These rules are modified by card special abilities


  • When two or more battle cards attack the same defending battle card simultaneously:
    • The defending card receive damage from all attackers
    • The defending card apply its damage to a single attacker
    • The defending player choose which attacker takes damage

Deck building

  • Identical cards: 1 copy allowed for every 10 cards in the deck.
  • Players should have same number of cards in their decks.
  • Some common cards have “mass produced”: No limit to number of copies.


  • When a player has used up his main pile of cards, he shuffles his discard pile and use it as his main pile.
  • Battle cards that has attacked or activated are turned sideways to indicate this.
  • Counters (fx. coins) or dice are used to keep track of available energy, player damage and battle cards with counters.
  • Trick cards go to the discard pile after use – unless they attach to a battle card.

Battle Card special abilities

Examples, not a complete list.

Radiance: This card may activate to deal one damage to target battle card or player.
Activated cards may not attack, and cards that have attacked may not activate.

Blocking: Attacking Battle Cards may only attack this card and others with blocking.

Mass produced: No limit to number of copies.

Trick Cards

Fuel explosion: You may choose the amount X of energy paid to play this card.
The card deals this amount of damage to target player.

Improve resistance: Energy cost: 2 kJ.
One battle card get +2K max. temperature difference (dT).
Place this card visible behind the battle card.

Double mass: Energy cost: 3 kJ.
One battle card doubles its Heat Capacity (HC). If the battle card has Mass Increase, double the amount of mass counters instead.
Place this card visible behind the battle card.

Notice: This post refer to the first version of Thermal Showdown.
Find updated info and cards here: Thermal Showdown info

Example cards

Toy soldier

Energy cost: 1 kJ
HC 1kJ/K, dT 1K, Power 1kW.
Mass produced: No limit to number of copies.
“A tiny lighter is glued to his hand”

Infrared lamp

Energy cost: 3 kJ
HC 1kJ/K, dT 1K, Power 1kW.
Radiance: This card may activate to deal one damage to target battle card or player.
Activated cards may not attack, and cards that have attacked may not activate.


Energy cost: 5 kJ
HC 2 kJ/K, dt 2K, Power 6 kW

Notice: This post refer to the first version of Thermal Showdown.
Find updated info and cards here: Thermal Showdown info

Write your experience

Have you tried out the game? How did it go? Are there any unclear points in the ruleset?

Did anything make the game dull: predictable, too long or too short?
And what changes would you suggest?

I need your feedback to decide which new cards should be added in future versions, to provide the most engaging experience possible.
You can write on the blog or tag me in the FB group Octalysis Explorers.

Also: Read my other blog post about gamification of teaching (English).

Bo Paivinen Ullersted