Gamification: The promise and the hype

Gamification is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and __________ .

Depending on who you talk to, the answer will be:

  • change behaviors
  • solve problems
  • get people to buy things

This divergence of goals probably reflects the reason why many game designers have NOT jumped on the gamification bandwagon, at least as it’s currently being implemented. For those who view gamification askance, it’s typically because the most well-known implementation of gamification is in marketing, where gamification has become synonymous with pointification and pointification has become associated with the idea of bad game design (Gamification Encyclopedia, 2010).

Gamification and the social spectrum

Gamification is about social connections, fun, and rewards, not necessarily in that order. However, the social aspect of games can be played out in very different contexts. At one end of the spectrum, there are “low impact” social games (lighthearted games designed mainly for social interactions and which may not require much thought), while at the other end of the spectrum there are serious social games ( games designed to educate, train, or to bring people together to innovate for social good).

Both types of games have value and both types of games can be designed well or badly. Both types of games should include a sense of fun and play.

What is the proper gamification loop?

I’ve come across two different presentations that I think represent fundamental differences in views on the proper elements of gamification. One is a Google Tech Talk presented by Gabe Zichermann (October 26, 2010). The other is an excellent Slideshare presentation by Sebastian Deterding (aptly titled, “Pawned: Gamification and Its Discontents“).

The fundamental difference that I see is the importance attached to extrinsic rewards vs instrinsic motivation as the most important game driver. Zichermann might argue (as he did in the Q&A at the end of the talk) that even in serious social games, extrinsic rewards drive behaviors and, in fact, extinguish intrinsic motivations. Indeed, he questioned whether there’s an internal life anymore.

On the other hand, Deterding’s premise is that a fundamental flaw in many games (as they are currently gamified) is that designers have lost sight of the importance of intrinsic motivations. As Deterding notes, points do not equal achievements and a sense of achievement ultimately is  a vital element of fun along with a sense of play. Game participants can play when they have the autonomy to think and act differently and to engage in make-believe. Contrast this idea to the idea of creating “rails” for players to travel along as part of the game design process noted by Zichermann. (To be fair, this type of game design has marketing as its primary purpose.)

You should view both of these presentations to draw your own conclusions about the major take homes, but I have to say I’m on board with Deterding’s view when it comes to serious games for education and training (both as an instructional designer and as a victim of some poorly designed games). I think it’s very important for serious games to be fun but I wouldn’t want to return to pure behaviorism as a model for instruction. Deterding’s view creates a place for constructivism in game play and actually suggests it’s required for a good game.

My notes on both presentations are summarized in this Mindomo map (game design and gamification)

Some additional articles you might be interested in:

My bookmark list of serious games resources is provided here in a Symbaloo webmix.

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7 responses to “Gamification: The promise and the hype

  1. Dianne,

    Great article and thanks for mentioning our wiki. We’d love to get your feedback on http://gamification.org and maybe we’ll add some content around this discussion.

  2. You’re welcome. I added the Gamification Encyclopedia to my bookmark list on Symbaloo; it’s been very useful and I look forward to seeing this wiki develop.

  3. Loved this article, very well explained. Seems to be a hype around this area at the moment.

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