Octalysis Analysis of Zero Theorem

Octalysis Analysis of Zero Theorem

I’m just back from watching Terry Gilliam’s latest iteration of his Dystopian *Brazil* like future. The technology mix of up-to-date computing, neon-glow power and data storage juxtaposed with retro, almost steam punk tech is almost overwhelming at first. Once you settle in for the ride, this clash along with the darkened classic buildings and corporate structures and intrigue of Kafka-esque proportions creates one of the most visually stunning but scary worlds you are ever likely to see.

In many ways it felt similar to Brazil, from Christoph Waltz’s tortured problem solver Qohen Leth as the mysterious protagonist, alien-like initially and a character I wanted to win by the end. Trapped in his nightmare society, not wanting to be part of it. Just waiting for his call to understand his greater purpose. Warning – I have tried to keep spoilers to a minimum!

So why am I compelled to write about this right now? I was stunned to see how Gamification was so simply immersed in this world and so wonderfully captured and it may sense to review the Octalysis 8 Core Drives against it.

Core Drive 1 – Epic Meaning & Calling

Initially Qohen Leth is clearly just a cog in a bigger corporate chain, however his unique logic/problem solving skills come to the notice of the management (scarily played by Matt Damon). He is then given the quest to embark on proving the Zero Theorem, which is positioned to Qohen by many characters as unsolvable. Interestingly the reason behind its impact is not clear but not his main driver, he is looking for his purpose in life (literally and figuratively waiting for a divine call – in Qohen’s case this is also reflect in his choice of home. A Church).

The games he plays to achieve his goals are more logically based problems.

Core Drive 2 – Development & Accomplishment

Clearly the initial work he is doing and the game he is playing is not very challenging for him.   Qohen is viewed as the “top dog” of his team (via feedback from his supervisor) and works at very a fast pace. He gets immediate feedback through sounds and screen prompts. He is expected to manually change over the data storage tubes (glowing fluid in a test tube) each time a goal has been hit. Also the level of challenge in the Zero Theorem game is significantly more difficult – of flappy bird proportions!

Core Drive 3 – Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

The initial games appear to be very logic puzzle orientated (simple tasks). As Qohen moves on to the Zero Theorem the game becomes much more fluid, he has some basic grinding in pulling “entities” together into blocks that form logic/math/algorithms and it appears at this point the game is more about his creativity than logic. He gets instant feedback as its clear to him how he is progress and when things are not going so well, towers of blocks dissipate when he fails or is too slow!! Its never clear whether this part of the game (stuck in the scaffolding phase) is likely to be evergreen.

Core Drive 4 – Ownership and Possession

A particularly strong element both in the game and outside as Qohen is driven to solve the unsolvable problem within the game, leading to a breakdown! It would seem he has total ownership of the problem, part of this is the external factors that are motivating him, those who have promised to get his “phone call” that he has been waiting all his life for.

Core Drive 5 – Social Influence and Relatedness

Qohen has a fear of most things, including social interaction. It’s appropriate then that the games have no inherent socialness it would appear.   However he does have various social pressures due to his supervisor keeping close eye on him, he has a Big Brother management problem as well 😉 Later on there is an element of mentoring from a young and bright character that helps him move forwards at a point where he is stuck.

Core Drive 6 – Scarcity and Impatience

The main dynamics driving Qohen in the game are constant reminders he is due to upload his latest progress, within the hour! However his own personal driver is always much stronger, he intrinsically wants his phone call that he has been promised and this impatience is what keeps him going.

Core Drive 7 – Curiosity and Unpredictability

A large part of the Zero Theorem work is based on the curiosity core drive, the need to understand why and what the solution is. There are no obvious techniques in place such as Easter eggs or sudden rewards.

Core Drive 8 – Loss and Avoidance

The main element in the game that is demonstrated is when he makes a mistake, it seems the tumbling towers have a negative impact on his progress (sending him backwards?) but it’s not visually clear, his emotional reaction is what gives it away.

So overall its fairly balanced, plays very well to Qohen strengths (and his flaws). I imagine that there are many things Terry Gilliam could do to drive his character even more but I’ll save those for another time 😉

Above is the contribution by Rich Wallace. Our feedback below:

Thank you for having chosen such an original and challenging subject for a Octaysis analysis! It is awesome when people feel empowered to apply the Octalysis framework to novel settings. The fact that you realize that you can literally apply Octalysis to every fictional and non-fictional situation, demonstrates that you have grasped the basic Octalysis concept well.

I have read your analysis with interest. It’s very encouraging to see that you have mastered the understanding of a number of key Octalysis basic core drives. I have not seen the movie, but you did tickle me in my CD 7 to go and see it 😉

Before I go into your analysis, I have one remark. I did experience a bit of confusion about the ‘product’ that you are analysing at times. Sometimes it looks like the analysis focuses on the main character; sometimes on Zero Theorem, the Quest; and sometimes on Zero Theorem, the movie. I will focus your analysis from the perspective of Zero Theorem, the Quest. This is where I think your analysis connects the most with.

Your Anaysis

Drive #1: Epic Meaning and Calling

It’s clear that the Zero Theorem is very much an epic quest and that this is a very motivational force. You rightly point out that Qohen (let’s call him the “player’) believes that he is doing something greater than himself. In fact he is chosen to do this quest of epic proportions, and is a kind of Humanity Hero (Game Technique #27).

Drive #2: Development & Accomplishment

You mention correctly that the challenge that Zero Theorem poses for the player is of enormous proportions, especially compared to the brainless activity he was used to be doing. What is important to mention in your analysis is whether the challenge posed actually makes the player feel smart and accomplished or not. If the task is too easy compared to the skill level, this will lead to boredom and disengagement, which is a loss of motivation (read also “FLOW” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi). So that part would not be true Core Drive 2. If the player is feeling self-improvement towards mastery during the Zero Theorem challenge, then he would be experiencing CD 2.

Core Drive #3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

You have described perfectly how the Zero Theorem engages the player in being involved in a creative process where he repeatedly has to figure out and try different (and increasingly more difficult) combinations. The instant feedback given adds even more power to this drive. Well done!

One thing to note though, something that is EverGreen does not mean that it constantly keeps changing. It means that it constantly motivates the player. If it keeps changing but the player loses motivation, then it is no longer evergreen.

Core Drive #4: Ownership and Possession

As I have not seen the movie, I cannot comment on the “breakdown” part, but you describe an environment where it seems that the player has total ownership of the problem. You also mention that the player is motivated by the possibility of getting the Divine Call, which is the Virtual Reward the makers of the quest have invented for him. I would argue that this, until he actually gets the call, belongs more to Drive 6 and 7.

The only CD 4 seems to be the “being responsible” part. There does not seem to be a huge amount of improving, protecting, or getting more of things he feels ownership towards.

Core Drive #5: Social Influence and Relatedness

You rightly describe how social interaction can be a driver here and the Mentorship role is a very good example of engagement through Core Drive 5. However, the constant pressure from his boss is more like Core Drive 8 (Loss and Avoidance of Risk) as this is where loss of his job, and means of living, come into play.

Also, perhaps there would be some Relatedness in the process. Personalities like what you described tends to be attracted to relatedness, things/places that make them create emotional associations to the past.

Core Drive #6: Scarcity and Impatience

You describe very well how the makers of the Quest create time-scarcity and impatience and that this is an element in driving the game forwards.

Problem-solvers are driven by things they cannot accomplish and overcome. The more they try, the more they fail. This frustration part is precisely what keeps them engaged all the time.

Core Drive #7: Curiosity and Unpredictability

You correctly analyze that a large part of the Zero Theorem quest is based on the drive to want to understand why and what the solution is, and that therefore this Core Drive is very much present. I am not sure what happens in the movie, but this drive is normally reinforced when there is a high amount of uncertainty about when something will happen. By the way in your tool, you give this a low score but in your analysis it gets a high score.

Just because it doesn’t have a lot of game elements in it doesn’t mean the drive is not strong.

Core Drive #8: Loss and Avoidance

This is obviously a strong driver in Big Brother situations. Punishment when failing, and fear of loss is a strong (short term) motivator. You describe this Core Drive well. As mentioned above, the pressure by his supervisor is part of this Core Drive.

Feedback Conclusion

You tackled a difficult, fictional topic with your Octalysis analysis. You like a challenge and you have gained my respect for your efforts. Overall, you understand the basic concepts underlying Octalysis and I feel like you are really close to being able to pass the certification.

Here are some things to improve on:

  • know your product: identify what you are analyzing (and what you are not) and make that clear in your analysis
  • know all the Core Drives by heart: know what they include (and what they do not include) and why
  • understand fully what the difference is between a Core Drive and the way that individual players get motivated by Core Drives.

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