What the Heck is Gamification? Part 2

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This is the final post of a two-part blog series by Deputy Director of Innovation Matt Rhoades. Read Part 1 here!

So, last time, I introduced a definition of what gamification is. Now, let’s contrast this with a brief discussion of games. Unlike gamification, a game IS the activity a participant is engaged in. That is to say, once the participant sits down to play the game, no additional buy-in is required. If the game is doing its job, the player is engaged, having fun, and learning, but even if the game is bad, the participant is playing the game until he or she decides to stop. There may still be a metagame aspect (like inventory Tetris), but that aspect is not core to the experience and is totally voluntary, regardless of how much it may add to the participant’s potential engagement. And unlike gamification, which is essentially designed as a set of tools for participants to craft their own game experience, a game is a designed experience already – it requires participation, not construction. Players may try to find ways to break or exploit the systems (another metagame), but the core intended experience is designed and it is providing feedback directly relevant to the content.
None of this is to say that gamification is “bad” – or even “worse” than games – any more than a hammer is “worse” than a saw. Each is a tool, and each has its place. It IS important point out the differences and to suggest how each can be used, however – especially since the two are often conflated or misunderstood. Gamification can be an excellent tool to add some extra oomph to a course that is already effective, and gamification can be a great way to bridge between a more traditional e-learning course and a game that will explore some of the same material. For example, adding gamification elements that echo (or can even be exploited by) a game can make those gamification elements more meaningful and fun to participants. Gamification has advantages in terms of relative ease of design and generally lower cost to implement. Gamification can often be added to existing courses without radically redesigning the course’s content. And it can help make content more engaging that may not be a natural fit for a more traditional game experience.

Another great way to use gamification is to incentivize a desired real world behavior. A great example would be the graphical indicators of fuel efficiency in hybrid vehicles. Many people I’ve talked to have made a game out of trying to adjust their driving to maximize fuel efficiency – even if that means driving more slowly or otherwise “non-optimally” by other criteria (mostly speed). This can be applied well to corporate processes where there are procedures that if followed can save money or ensure better communications or whatever the case may be. Employees may be less likely to cut corners if game systems are in place that encourage them not to.

So, whereas games provide a great way to practice a skill (particularly in an environment where it is safe to make mistakes and experiment) that can then be transferred to a real world application, gamification can be applied directly to a real world application to encourage its use. Retrofitting versus building from scratch.

So that’s gamification in a nutshell. Not too complicated. Just not exactly what it sounds like. And now that you know, you’re free to gamify to your heart’s content. Good luck!