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Monday Morning Gamification: A Word of Warning…

April 18, 2011

This is an interesting sort-of critique of the idea of gamification:

Unless I’m talking to a quantum physicist, I don’t trust people who argue for multiple versions of reality. That is why I’m wary of “gamification,” an idea that’s been blowing strong through confabs like South by Southwest and is championed by authors, consultants, and startup gurus like Jane McGonigalSeth Priebatsch, and Gabe Zichermann. The basic idea arises from how engaged people are when they play games, even if they’re doing mundane things like running a farm or mining ore. If we make the world more like a game, the thinking goes, we can harness all that energy to solve real-world problems.

It’s a compelling idea, certainly. I’ve been covering video games for more than 10 years and am especially interested in the “serious games” movement; I believe whole-heartedly that wonderful things can happen when people play. But gamification advocates do not preach the beauty and power of play. Perhaps without knowing it, they’re selling a pernicious worldview that doesn’t give weight to literal truth. Instead, they are trafficking in fantasies that ignore the realities of day-to-day life. This isn’t fun and games—it’s a tactic most commonly employed by repressive, authoritarian regimes.

Not sure I agree with all this.  Adding play to something does not avoid the truth of that thing.  It’s just another way of us engaging with and processing a subject.  Gamification is not just about creating fantasy and escapism; its about the fact that play is a very, very human thing.  So making important things play is a way of re-interpreting them in a way that some (not all) will find more appealing.  For some its the competition, for others the peer recognition and others still the satisfaction of codified achievements (or indeed a mixture of all three).

However that said I think there are points in this worth taking on-board.  Gamification is no magic wand, its not going to generate success everywhere.  Not only that but all gamifcation is seen to do is give shopping vouchers, then it will be a bit of a waste…

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