More hate for gamification

More hate for gamification

The problem with “critics” is that they’ve got lots of opinions … but don’t usually contribute anything productive (other than their verbosity) to the discussion. The problem with gamification is that it has become so popular so fast that critics are lining up to take a swipe and feel good about themselves.

Margaret Robinson’s article from 2010 on gamification goes down the same road as many other critics, including Bogost’s scathing attack (mentioned in the previous post). Robinson is determined that gamification focuses on the least important part of the game. She, like Bogost, says that badges and progress points aren’t intrinsic to the game at all.

But she’s wrong … they are important. Gamification isn’t about the game itself. Gamification is about how a game layer (game elements) can be used as motivators. If we look directly at games we can confidently say that games have motivators. One motivation is to win, to be the best. That motivation is represented by a scoreboard (leader boards can be used as a gamifying technique). If there’s no score or no winner, then many will find the game to be less fun.

Let’s make it more clear through an example. I’m a bit of a poker player. I enjoy poker and I play it when I can. It’s possible to play poker without money and without talking to the other players. But doing so would take away most of the fun … it would take away the motivation to play. See, that’s an intrinsic part of gaming. Sometimes the game itself is not that interesting, but socialising and gambling add to the enjoyment. I play poker so that I can experience the adrenaline rush of winning a big hand and, at the same time, talking with friends over a few beers.

Sometimes the game is just a tool. The mechanics of the game are not that important. This is what gamification represents. If we add a game layer to other tasks then we add a motivation. Gamification includes rewards, and it also includes socialising.

More criticism. This time targeted at gaming guru Jane McGonigal. Through her Tedx talk, McGonigal talks about her heal and some experiences relating to that. Particularly she relates how she used gamification and roleplaying to help her recovery. 

Heather Chaplin, the author of the piece, says that games aren’t that fun and “gaming” isn’t for everyone. This is another common criticism of gaming and gamification – it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

Well, no … of course not! Nobody who is a proponent of gamification is saying such a thing.

The truth is that we all DO play games. We play various games in our daily lives. Some people play cards, some collect coupons or air miles. Some play sport and others play tetris on their smartphone. Everyone plays games … but not everyone plays the same type of game. That’s not the same as saying not everyone finds games appealing, which is a falsehood.

Gamification covers this problem too by acknowledging multiple approaches to motivating people to play. Level up systems, for example, are a combination of small (like an incremental number) and big (like a major “level”). This is important because some people are motivated by different goals. Some people like to see the incremental gains (immediate, short term goals) and others prefer the larger gains (long term goals). Both work together to motivate. The same with leaderboards – global leaderboards motivate those who wish to be the best. Social leaderboards motivate people who want to try and beat their friends. Some people are motivated by certain badges. Others are motivated by completely different goals or achievements such as social status.

A great “real world” example is scouts. Scouts get badges for proving that they have a certain skill. Once they demonstrate a skill they get a patch or badge. The badges give a scout status in the community (global leaderboard) and amongst their friends (social leaderboard). When the scout gets a certain number of badges they can get a promotion (level up). 

All of these ideas are older than the internet and computers. Gamification isn’t creating something new, it’s just identifying systems and motivational strategies that have been around for centuries.

The main criticisms of gamification is that it doesn’t focus on the most important part of the game (ie the actual game) and that games don’t appeal to everyone. 

Complete rubbish! The game and the rewards for playing are equally important. Everyone is motivated by different rewards, so gamification is a multi-faceted approach which acknowledges such. Finally, whether critics want to admit it or not, everyone DOES play games. Grandma may not play shooter games like Call Of Duty, but she does collect the supermarket discount stamps (that’s a game) and she does play bridge on Thursdays (another game). She doesn’t collect stamps because she thinks its fun (it’s not fun at all). She collects the stamps because there’s a reward (free stuff). She doesn’t play bridge because she enjoys the technicalities and math involved in the game. She plays because she can chat with her friends and is motivated to beat them (and win status as a good player).

See, gamification is everywhere. 

It’s too easy to criticise something because it’s popular. It’s much harder to take a more measured approach to understanding that gamification offers real potential in education. Games and gamification are valid tools for motivating people to participate and learn … it’s sad that we still have to fight this war over justifying the place of gaming in our culture.


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