Buzzword alert – Gamification

Have you been gamified yet? Perhaps not a painful as it sounds, gamification is on its way to becoming THE buzzword of 2011. Social media engagement tools such as badges, points, levels, leaderboards, etc are making their way out of hipster apps to every online engagement you can think of. Yes, it all sounds oddly familiar (green stamps, reward cards, etc.) but of course, it’s all NEW NEW NEW, with gurus and pundits claiming that gamification will change the way we live and of course, spend money.

Rick Gibson of Games Investor Consulting is quoted (pretty much everywhere) as saying, “Some analysts estimate that 50% of companies will have ‘gamified’ by 2015. That’s 13.5 million businesses in the U.S. alone. That seems pretty ambitious to me.”

But hey, guess what! Education is actually AHEAD of the gamification movement for once! Educators have listened to the breathless pronouncements about how games are the future of education for years! And guess what else?! It’s pretty much the same hype that is going on right now in business.

For years we’ve seen “educational games” that are merely flash cards and multiple choice tests dressed up in the costume of games. They use the vocabulary and graphics of games but suck out the fun and replace it with content drills. But you get points!… and badges! And as every good educator knows, points and badges are the only reason kids would ever want to learn… right? (Gosh I hope the sarcasm translates there… if not, read Punished By Rewards, or this interview with Alfie Kohn, the books’ author.)

A few game designers are pushing back against the “gamification” of business. In Persuasive Games: Exploitationware, Ian Bogost, a well-known serious game designer, discusses what’s wrong with the idea that you can take “…the easiest way possible to capture some of the fairy dust of games and spread it upon products and services.

But as he also points out, the difficulty of designing great games is hardly of concern to the marketeers and consultants who will jump on this bandwagon, wring some money out of it, and move on.

Nicholas Lovell writes in Gamification: Hype or Game-Changer? (Wall Street Journal,) “Others argue that gamification at best ignores the unique feelings of fun, learning, joy, flow and discovery that lie at the heart of a game, and at worst is the evil exploitation of human nature by psychological tricks and Pavlovian manipulation.”

Yup, sounds just like most educational games.

The next time you hear that some educational activity should be “gamified” – just ask:

  • Are you talking about adding extrinsic motivation? Why does this experience not have intrinsic motivation?
  • Is the “game” aspect integral to the context of the learning?
  • Would this activity be valuable if it were not “gamified”? If not, why is adding game elements an effective strategy?
  • Is a competitive aspect harmful in any way to some children?
  • Are you labeling children as winners and losers for no apparent reason?
  • Are the game elements the same elements you would consider necessary for real learning? For example, if a game element is a time limit, is there a real reason for speed over accuracy or thoughtfulness?
  • Does the game rely on out of context memorization to “win”?
  • Does the gamification create unintentional incentives to “game the system”, limit risk-taking or avoid challenging problems? For example, to repeat easier exercises just to build up points?

Hopefully as parents and educators see this crass move to “gamify” consumer experiences, it will help make it clearer that gamifying education is just as silly.

Sylvia

3 thoughts on “Buzzword alert – Gamification”

  1. Games are systematic, so it’s not hard to argue games are like lessons. The key to this is showing teachers what emerges from games, and the expert skills kids have can be used to great effect. The significant issue is that PD isn’t anything other than lecture/tutorial bolted onto loose social debate. Can I show teachers how to engage kids in blogs by playing Warcraft. Yes. Can we teach blogging using Portal 2, yes. The reality is most edtech speakers lack game competency, and find it more useful to slot into what people are likely to buy into, and have drawn a line in the sand.

  2. Hi Sylvia, just came across your post. Thought you might be interested in a recent conversation I had with Henry Jenkins on the topic of gamification:

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