Book Review: Game Frame: Using Games as Strategy for Success

I just finished another interesting book that focuses on gaming and gamification in the real world. Game frame: Using games as strategy for success*  is written by Aaron Dignan, the founder of Undercurrent, a digital strategy firm.

Game Frame is a 203-page book packed with useful information about games and gamification. Dignan spreads his observations across ten chapters or levels, a backstory, and an appendix. In my opinion, levels eight and nine are the most powerful pieces of the book. This is where Dignan introduces the idea of the Game Frame and how to implement it to improve skill performance.

The first seven levels introduce the idea of games and gamification as well as game mechanics necessary to implement gamification in a work or life setting.

Dignan starts his book by stating, “Boredom is everywhere, and it’s a by-product of poorly structured systems” (Dignan, 2011, p. 1). He adds that when we start a new job, it is exciting and it holds our attention; however, after time, it becomes boring because we have stopped learning. We have become tired of the system, there are no new problems to solve. As I mentioned in a previous post, we are wired to solve problems. We become bored when there are no new problems to solve and work becomes routine.

Dignan points out that we are seeing game mechanics being used in more aspects of our life. These may be in the form of games such as Foursquare or game elements as implemented by Nike+. Businesses are using game mechanics such as points and rewards to encourage customer loyalty. This should be no surprise because games are the largest growing industry in our nation. Games hold our attention. However, game mechanics work only for a short time, at least until the game is mastered. Once a game is mastered it is time to move on to a new game and new set of problems to solve.

In level three, Dignan points out that we were meant to play. Plato once said, “Life must be lived as play.” Many games were developed as a means to practice survival skills. We learned to run as a means of survival, but we have races to practice the skill of running. It is only society that said work must be serious and not fun. But why can it not also be fun. People tend to continue to do something if it is fun to do. Lifelong learners are such because they have found learning to be enjoyable. Yet, many learners have experienced the opposite, they have found learning to be work and not enjoyable. They then resist other opportunities to learn. I believe it is important to bring the fun back into learning.

As I mentioned earlier, Dignan’s Game Frame is the key to this book. The Game Frame is a framework for designing behavioral games. “Using a Game Frame allows us to look at any behavioral game from the top down, understand its constituent parts, and see how they fit together” (Dignan, 2011, p. 87). The Game Frame has ten elements:

  • Activity
  • Play Profile
  • Objectives
  • Skills
  • Resistance
  • Resources
  • Actions
  • Feedback
  • Black Box
  • Outcomes

Activity – the behavior of focus.

Player Profile – description of the players based on drivers and symptoms. Drivers are dynamics that influence volition and faculty.

Objectives – short- and long-term goals.

Skills – abilities that players will learn. Skills can be physical, mental, or social.

Resistance – oppositional forces such as competition or chance.

Resources – supplies that players have or can get which may be used or denied in gameplay.

Actions – moves, decisions, choices players can make to move the game forward.

Feedback – a response system that feeds information to a player to help them make valid decisions.

Black box – rules engine. It can be electronic or analog. However, it has all the business rules of the game.

Outcomes – positive and negative results. Levels, badges, rewards are examples of positive outcomes.

All of these elements are combined strategically to design the game. Specific elements such as resistance, resources, and actions are adjusted to make the game engaging.  For example, a resource such as time can be increased or decreased to change the sense of urgency. Competitions such as Design Star use the element of time to increase the pressure upon a player. What they could do under normal time constraints becomes more challenging when the time is reduced.

If you are interested in gaming and gamification, I would strongly recommend adding Game frame: Using games as strategy for successto your bookshelf.

If you have read this book, what were your thoughts?


Dignan, A. (2011). Game frame: Using games as strategy for success. New York: Free Press.

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