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Gamification – do we need to make common sense fun?

The Guardian has some interesting coverage of SXSW this last week. Contrary to popular geek belief I frequently find mainstream reaction to events and ideas just as fascinating as specialist coverage – although that may be due to my science fiction projects, which deal with the public and cultural acceptance of bleeding edge technology.

In particular, this bit on ‘gamification’ caught my eye:

“The current public face of gamification is Jane McGonigal, author of the new book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better And How They Can Change The World, but many of her prescriptions are cringe-inducing: they seem to involve redefining aid projects in Africa as “superhero missions”, or telling hospital patients to think of their recovery from illness as a “multiplayer game”. Hearing how McGonigal speeded her recovery from a serious head injury by inventing a “superhero-themed game” called SuperBetter, based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which her family and friends were players helping her back to health, I’m apparently supposed to feel inspired. Instead I feel embarrassed and a little sad: if I’m ever in that situation, I hope I won’t need to invent a game to persuade my family to care.”

I’m not quite sure how I feel about this. Certainly the idea that a generation of gamers can only be motivated by turning what should perhaps be common sense into a game seems a little patronising to me, and the mention of African aid there borders on some kind of imperialism. But perhaps I’m overreacting. What’s your take?

5 thoughts on “Gamification – do we need to make common sense fun?”

  1. It makes sense, but only to a certain perspective…

    To a young child who learns by hands-on activities, using building blocks to learn math makes sense… to the auditory learner, that makes no sense, but reading and listening does.

    Likewise, I think this gaming-centered idea does make sense, but only to a very limited audience. Very few people have seriously gaming-focused minds, like this McGonigal family. But to the rest of us, we don’t put games on that high a pedestal; it just feels like a childish way to cover the real heart of the matter… that I can make myself want to help others (like in Africa), that I can make myself think positive to recover health faster, etc.

    But that’s philosophical / technical thinking. The reality is this: using “childish” thinking to mask “adult” concepts just insults our intelligence a bit. Whether it’s right or wrong, or whether we even know what “childish” and “adult” means, it infuriates our pride just a bit for someone to suggest that.

  2. I do kind of agree with you Shadowfax. At least that’s my initial reaction. Its perhaps a symptom of how much geek culture is centered around the infantile, almost in a way that wishes to retreat from adult responsibilities.

    (So speaketh a man that runs a website that is mainly about cartoons).

  3. I work in the design field and have been either treated or forced into these gamififcation conferences. The current swell of interest in the field isn’t really based on “masking adult concepts.” These guys are just jumping on the bandwagon to make money. However, in this case, their greed is backed-up by strong psychological evidence and millions of years of human interaction.

    Gamification is not about motivating a generation of gamers. Instead, it’s based on the idea that whether we know it or not, we are all gamers. Most of our early life learning occurs through games. Your rewards program for your credit cards and airplane miles are a a kind of game. Groupon is a game. Getting people to follow you and following others on Twitter is a game. Your mom is playing a game when she uses her coupon card at the pharmacy—when she cashes in her earned points.

    So again, this is not about retreating “from adult responsibilities.” It’s acknowledging a basis for motivation and er, using it to make tons of cashing at speaking engagements.

    In other words, All the world’s a game, not a stage.

    You can learn more about it from the Richard Bartle, one of the pioneers of the massively multiplayer online game industry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Bartle

  4. Makes sense Oneil…although all the examples you give are ‘selfish’ ones, where when you ‘win’ you benefit. So gaming in that sense is just another word for basic human survival/desire instincts, perhaps? What about when you are helping others – the superhero saving Africa example – that’s when it starts to feel like the masking of adult concepts of compassion and justice for me. Instead of doing something because it is ‘right’, we can do it to ‘win’…making something selfish out of the selfless?

  5. Totally agree Tim. The other side of my argument was their are people who are just exploiting the concept to make a living as a speaker.

    They’re basically taking buzzwords, combining it with gamification and calling it a movement. pretty sleazy. They’ll all move on to the “next big thing” soon anyway.

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