Engagement is the ultimate goal of the experience (by definition--this theory is not concerned with non-engaging experiences). Engagement refers to a core reason that someone finds an experience appealing, interesting, or absorbing (including both interactive and non-interactive experiences). Thinking in terms of engagement is more useful than the more amorphous term "fun" that is often used as the goal when making a game or other types of entertainment. The more specific kinds of "fun" embodied in engagement types are more useful, and crucially allow for experiences that are not fun, but are still very engaging (such as a movie like Schindler's List).

Engagement Types

The nine engagement types are: accomplishment, challenge, competition, fellowship, discovery, fantasy, expression, sensation, and catharsis. Each category has a set of more specific related types of engagement just for organizational purposes. Each of those specific types of engagement then has a list of examples to help pin-point what is really meant by each type.

Accomplishment: The satisfaction of intrinsic, extrinsic, or even arbitrary progress.

  • Achievement: advancement, collection, completion, perfection
  • Acquisition: compensation, hoarding, arranging, obtaining material things
  • Improvement: knowledge, insight, expertise, capability, power, confidence

Challenge: The joy of overcoming obstacles, even completely arbitrary ones.

  • Planning: strategy, tactics, logic, analysis, lateral thinking, prediction
  • Practice: training, testing, refining, precision, optimization, memorization
  • Improvisation: reaction, adaptation, identification, versatility, flexibility

Competition: The thrill of success against other individuals or groups.

  • Domination: superiority, intimidation, demoralization, humiliation, vengeance, submission
  • Disruption: deception, distraction, sabotage, treachery, betrayal, confusion, provocation
  • Persuasion: argument, seduction, negotiation, diplomacy, blackmail, interrogation

Fellowship: The comfort of being with other individuals or groups.

  • Affiliation: loyalty, honor, duty, respect, admiration, friendship, family, affection, romance
  • Benefaction: service, protection, providing, training, teaching, compassion, sacrifice
  • Cooperation: communication, coordination, organization, trust, inspiration, leadership

Discovery: The excitement of something new or the return to something old.

  • Exploration: curiosity, investigation, research, mystery, truth
  • Experimentation: new ways to do things, combining things in new ways, developing new concepts
  • Rediscovery: nostalgia, remembrance, homecoming, reunion

Fantasy: Fulfilling the desire to be someone you are not, or to do things you cannot or would not.

  • Power: physical, mental, social, spiritual, magical, lack of power
  • Identity: personality, age, gender, race, culture, status, social role, vocational role
  • Moral: destruction, violence, law-breaking, taboo-breaking, justice, purity

Expression: The instinct to show others who you are, what you have done, and what you can do.

  • Individuality: personalization, independence, freedom, dissent, contrariness, imagination
  • Recognition: social status, fame, glory, influence, notoriety, validation, exhibition
  • Creation: crafting, fabrication, construction, invention, artistic works, intellectual works

Sensation: Immersion in the stimulation of internal or external senses.

  • Cosmetic: visual, aural, smell, taste, beauty
  • Kinesthetic: motion, time, balance, force, touch, exertion
  • Excitation: thrill, risk-taking, anxiety, fear, pain, lust, delight

Catharsis: Resolution of pent up emotions, newfound understanding, or a change of world view.

  • Emotional: tragedy, comedy, wonder, rage, horror, loathing
  • Understanding: pity, sympathy, empathy, sorrow, remorse, perspective, epiphany, clarity
  • Transformative: forgiveness, acceptance, redemption, repentance, enlightenment, love, awe

Core vs. Supporting

When talking about the type of engagement an experience delivers, the terms "core" and "supporting" are often used. Core engagement types are the ones that if removed from the experience would alter it completely, making it a very different type of experience. Supporting engagement types are ones that improve the experience, but would not fundamentally alter the experience if they were not there. Certain engagement types may be so weak that they do not even count as a supporting type. This often occurs when the engagement type is indirect, such as the mild sensation of motion conveyed by a photograph of a sprinter during a race.

Genre vs. Engagement Type

For designers, directors, writers, etc., thinking of experiences in terms of the type of engagement they deliver is generally much more useful than thinking in terms of the genre of the experience. Classifying a game as a platformer or a movie as a western doesn't really help make a better experience; understanding that traditional platformers are about challenge and accomplishment is important, and knowing that the western you are writing is an identity fantasy that ends with tragic catharsis is very useful. Genres are best used when thinking about how to market an experience, not when worrying about how to build an engaging experience. Even if you want to categorize experiences by something other than engagement type, looking at the types of elements that make up the experience is often better than worrying about genres.