Game of Cults: Epic Meaning and the Glowing Choice

In today’s article, I apply ideas from Yu-Kai Chou’s Actionable Gamification to the human givens we all know and experience every day.  

For most of us, we want to make our marketing more rewarding and fun—game-like. Some of us may decide to go deeper—we want our experience to offer meaning.

What might that look like?

What about integrating your marketing into your story world to create a transmedia experience, an alternative reality game, where readers become players in your story world?

That’s deep-level marketing.

My hypothesis is that good gamification fulfills certain human givens. A great game gets players to accept it as part of their pseudo-environment and believe the game gives their life meaning. As a player, they are part of something bigger.

A brand cult is the ultimate manifestation, as it means people associate with your brand so strongly that they connect their identity to it and seek others like them. They begin to bend their reality to suit your brand.

Under the hood of all this are the Human Givens—things we need as humans to be healthy and whole. When unmet, we get mentally and physically sick.

Let’s revisit the Human Givens and discuss why they are essential.

Security — safe territory and an environment that allows us to develop fully. As Maslow suggested, security is a basic need that all others are built on. Your system needs to be safe.

Attention (to give and receive it) — is a form of nutrition. As you build out your game, the more the player believes you’re giving them attention (seeing and hearing them), the more they will reciprocate. 

Sense of autonomy and control — having the volition to make responsible choices. This is a vital part of the game where players feel they are making choices even if they all end up at the same endpoint.

Emotional intimacy — knowing that at least one other person accepts us for who we are, “warts ’n’ all.”

Feeling part of a wider community — Most of our work revolves around this social need. We are looking to build a community.

Privacy — the opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience.

Sense of status within social groupings. 

Sense of competence and achievement — when activities are posed as challenges and ways to achieve merit, people are eager to complete those tasks. 

Meaning and purpose — come from being stretched in what we do and think.

Epic meaning and calling 

Just like your book’s protagonist needs an impetus, your game must offer fans a call to action. Present events to help them find their epic meaning. For example, author Martha Carr shared that the epic meaning for her is tapping into the magic in all of us. Her stories show that, so she’s taken it on as the theme of her communications with her reader group.

Being part of something larger, like a group, adds to our meaning. Making your group a place where human givens are fulfilled closes that loop.

Development and accomplishment 

Besides looking for meaning, we look to create and accomplish. How can you facilitate that for others?

Katie Cross is mobilizing her author community to help support each other in a community based around the story world. They do it because it benefits them in ways beyond a simple transaction for a book.

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But how do we get someone to that point?

The glowing choice

Game designers struggle with apophenia and game players going the wrong way because they see something that’s not part of the design but assume it’s the path.

To reduce the chance, the designer simply illuminates the right path with a clear indication (glowing choices) of which direction to follow.

Think about how game designers make it easy in the beginning to learn the tutorial and level up.

Few choices are given until the player understands the game.

In the beginning, you educate, build trust, and provide rewards. Don’t look to move someone from cold prospect to superfan in one email.

Remember, with newsletters, we don’t want to ask too much.

First, when you’re just getting started, you haven’t built enough trust to get reliable opens… yet email experts will instruct you to get the reader to white-list you right away.


Have you white-listed me?

Likely not, and you’re at article 38?

I went to my email to check and saw that I had less than ten VIPs set up. Only two are for newsletters. The others are friends, family, and clients.

Yet someone who just found you and maybe hasn’t even downloaded your free book will white-list you?

My point is that we get the cart before the horse. We ask readers to put us on an allow list, “sign up for my group,” do this, do that, and “here’s some stuff to buy!”

Too much, too confusing, and likely none of it will get done.

Where’s the glowing choice?

If I’m looking to get a cold prospect to read a free book, then all paths lead to reading a free book, and the only route out is at the end of that free book.

If a reader signed up organically from a book (they paid for it), then my glowing choice is to read the next book in the series.

Here is where your paths align. They want to read, and you make money when they read, so keep them in the reading state and get them to the next book in the series.

Later, we can ask more of the reader.

When we do, if there is a benefit, it becomes a reward rather than an ask.

Why should they join your group? Is it so you can feel good about a growing membership count and have another place to shill?

Or is your group a privilege?

A place where similar readers can hang out and suggest books to each other?

Rather than shilling books, encourage your readers to help each other find similar authors. This will fill the void for those who have read all you have written and get them in the habit of suggesting where to start in your backlist.

It’s easier to sell your books when your group provides recommendations and social proof.

One more thing…

One of your endgames is to build a wide bridge network. Don’t worry about how, but what is it like? Imagine how people would interact and what it will provide for members in the way of epic meaning and meeting human givens.

Now, build back and create the glowing choices that lead people there, and train them to behave how you need them to in that community.

By the way, if all your community is about is selling, then… it has no epic meaning.

Read: How Your Game Cultivates Your Most Valuable Asset