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Spiritual Life

Gamification expert and entrepeneur chooses to follow Christ

Gamification takes the experience of game thinking and mechanics and applies it to other areas, such as work.

Yu-kai Chou, an entrepreneur and gamification expert, said gamification makes boring things fun – things you have to do but do not necessarily want to do. Chou believes that gamification can create a world where everyone has fun in their work, companies perform better and customers enjoy the products they purchase.

Gamification pioneer

Chou, 27, is a gamification pioneer and self-described “hard-core gamer” since childhood. In 2003, he began to see the benefit of applying game principles to life – to help himself and others find ways to integrate work and play. He embarked on a career in gamification.

Chou founded several companies, including FD Career, Viralogy and his most recent, RewardMe, a digital loyalty platform that applies gamification to online commerce. He is also a partner with Enterprise Gamification Consultancy (EGC), where he helps businesses and other organizations apply gamification techniques.

Chou writes extensively about gamification. He developed a framework – Octalysis – to describe the driving forces behind it. An in-demand speaker on gamification, he has presented at Stanford University, Google Inc. and TEDx. In 2013, the UK-based Leaderboarded named him the No. 1 “Gamification Guru.”

Faith background

On his website, Chou describes himself as a “follower of Christ.” He grew up as an agnostic in Taiwan, with parents he described as “stuck between agnostic and atheists.” As a teen, he moved with his parents to Kansas. Although he struggled socially, he developed friends through his passion for chess.

“I had a good friend in the chess club who was a faithful Christian,” Chou said. “He invited me to church, but I declined. Then he invited me six times in a row. I felt bad. I was his friend and didn’t like rejecting him. I accepted the sixth time so that I could tell him that I didn’t like it and he wouldn’t invite me again.”

But Chou liked the experience.

“I felt something really different,” he said. “I understand now that I was really touched by the Holy Spirit. I was moved by the music and liked the pastor. After the service, I asked the pastor several questions. I don’t think he answered them all, but he did answer some logically.”

That conversation led Chou to investigate on his own. He read the Bible and researched answers to his questions.

“I was convinced by the evidence that everything was true,” he said.

Chou committed to follow Christ because he found that Christianity is “focused on love – love one another, build relationships and love because God loves you. That changed my lifestyle.”

Integrating faith and work

Chou believes that his faith has made it easier to be an entrepreneur.

“The hardest part of being an entrepreneur is that there is a lot of risk – 90 percent of the time entrepreneurs fail,” he said. “But when you believe that God is sovereign and in control of everything, there is no risk. It is really what He wants to happen.”

Although Chou said his Christianity has generated business – the Christian Broadcast Network engaged him to help design a cartoon game series interface for children to increase their biblical knowledge – he also has lost opportunities because of his faith. He has turned down deals for ethical reasons, and some companies have refused to conduct business with him because of the tagline on his website, “Gamification Expert and Follower of Christ.”

Gamification and faith

How does gamification fit with Chou’s faith?

“I want to create games that even if you quit the game, your real life becomes better,” he said. “I started gamification because I quit a game that I spent thousands of hours on and I felt empty. I was trying to figure out if there was a game where the more hours you spent on it, the more productive you became and the more fun it made life.”

Imagine, he ventured, a truly addicting game, where the more time you spend on it, the more productive you would be.

“You would be playing all day, enjoying it and your career would be growing,” he added. “You would be making more income, having better relationships with your family, creating value for your community and solving the hardest problems in the world – that ties into my understanding of the Bible. Christianity allows me to operate better.”

According to Chou, gamification allows him to understand his faith better.

“Games are just a blink compared to life, just like the real world is just a moment compared to eternity,” he said. “Life is like a game in that the decisions we make in a game affect the outcome of the game. In life, the decisions we make affect how we spend eternity.”

Skip Vaccarello is a longtime Los Altos resident. For more information, visit findinggodinsiliconvalley.com.

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