Adding Game Mechanics to Your Event

Pictured: A game card employed at an elementary school science fair.


I recently attended my child’s elementary school science fair and was intrigued to find game mechanics employed by the fair’s planners. The fair had several rows of “exhibits” (students’ science projects) and a number of students were seen walking studiously from project to project, with a rectangular slip of paper. It turns out the paper was a game card (pictured above), with a list of projects that students needed to find (and check off the list).

The Challenge and Completion Dynamics

I was struck by how many students were participating in the “game,” all under the premise of “you will get a prize if you are a lucky winner.” Adoption was strong because it tapped into a challenge dynamic. Kids were presented with a challenge (“go find these exhibits”). And importantly, there was a structure behind the challenge: the completion dynamic (“find all of the exhibits, then return the card to a volunteer”).

Since a completed card merely got a student a raffle ticket (after which they’d need to hold a winning ticket to gain a prize), motivation was driven by the challenge dynamic – something to keep in mind as it relates to B2B events (i.e. understanding and taking advantage of attendees’ motivations, rather than simply offering up iPads as prizes).

Pros and Cons

Pros: Participants in the game reviewed many more projects than they otherwise would have. Case in point: some students who did not play the game could be found lounging outside the fair, socializing on the patio.

Cons: More a consideration than a negative – game designers need to understand the “completion dynamics.” For the science fair, it’s a good thing for game players to visit many exhibits. The ideal visit is one where the visitor reads through the science project and gains an appreciation for the hypothesis and the result.

The non-optimal visit is the “drive by,” where the visitor is purely motivated by finding another item to check off the list. Good game design will motivate players to immerse themselves in the game, rather than play the game solely to achieve the end result.

How this Applies to Physical & Virtual Events

  1. Motivating participation: when incorporating game mechanics, discover ways to encourage participation beyond the prize.
  2. Contextual relevance: connect the game activities directly to the event content. The science fair did this perfectly.
  3. Encourage immersion and enjoyment: participation needs to go “beyond the result” – participants need to place a higher value on the activity (itself) over the achievement of status or completion.


Pictured: a kid-themed scavenger hunt provided by the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, CA.


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