What is Gamification

Gamification is the application of secondary game mechanics to non-game experiences. Gamification, despite the name, does not involve play or primary game structures, but those devices associated with measuring progress and encouraging players to maintain their involvement, such as points, scores, leaderboards, levels and progression meters, achievements, badges, virtual currency, and other rewards that acknowledge intangible labour with intangible rewards.

Key examples of gamification include apps like Foursquare and the MyCoke rewards scheme, which is an extension of traditional Frequent Flyer approach, rewarding consumers over time for participating in desired activities. Chore Wars seems like a less insidious interation of the concept.

The term ‘gamification’ is not new, but “decades old” (Bartle, 2011) and it has resurfaced as its proponents argued that it makes non-game tasks more engaging, interesting and fun (Zicherman, 2010). Critics (Bogost, 2011, McCrea, 2011, Doust, 2001) take issue with the term, starting with its semantic turgidity. The power of the word, gamification, is undeniable, as McCrea (2011) suggests it is a hype train that is too big to stop rolling. The power of the term, argues Bogost (2011) has nothing to do with games, and everything to do with rhetoric. The ‘game‘ part of the term is is entirely ambiguous. Ludologists, play theorists and games scholars have frequently attempted to categorise and define what makes a game. Wittengenstein, Huizinga, Caillois, Crawford, Salen and Zimmerman and Juul (see Juul 2003) for a comparison of games definitions), all provided different perspectives for thinking about and classifying games.

Typically, although I think mistakenly, games have been defined in opposition to work, as entertainments, pursuits of leisure and recreation, most commonly games are defined in terms of their governance, rules of fixed and negotiated consequences and of course games are a form of competition. I have a preference for Malaby’s (2007, p, 96) ‘processual’ definition that a game “… is a semibounded and socially legitimate domain of contrived contingency that generates interpretable outcomes”. Unlike Malaby, Salen and Zimmerman (2004) and others who see the domain of games as being apart from the ‘regular’ activities of life, I argue that games are part of everyday life, whose internal meanings and logic set aside and activity (Moore, 2011, forthcoming). Games, as result of technological convergence, digital distribution, the development of participatory media cultures (Raessens, 2003), and the infiltration of social networks (and the co-colonisation of social networking within games) have gained a new degrees of mobility.

The boundaries between what counts as being in a game and everything outside of it have diminished, for example World of Warcraft is a good example of this, Blizzard continue to produce apps like the Mobile Armory and Mobile Auction House and the WoW remote  that allows a subscriber to interact with the game, and others plays, via mobile devices. What it even means to ‘play’ WoW in terms of the actions a character can do no longer holds any central referent. Gamification is an inevitable progression of this process, although it is only the most mobile elements of game structures, those that do not involve ‘play’ or the creative negotiation of rules, that have so far been adopted. Only those elements which mark off involvement and investment in the system, those functions that regulate and quantify comparative performance with others have been adopted.

Like blogger and game designer Margaret Roberson (2010) in her criticism that gamification – so far – is really only “pointsification”. Gamified interfaces are mostly instances of loyalty programs with game-like language, including experience points (XP), that are not playful because there is nothing to lose and there is very little player choice involved in the participation. Rather than ludifying experience by providing games structures for us to navigate, interact with or making things ‘playful’ within a game environment, gamification introduces those mechanics known as ‘operant condition chambers’, or more derogatorily referred to as ‘Skinnerbox’ techniques. The core concept is a kind Pavlovian training, rewarding the player for the exhibition of ‘correct’ behaviours through positive reinforcement. It relies on the enjoyment humans find in recognising and completing patterns complex and layered patterns, and the extrinsic motivation of the virtual carrot, coupled with the intrinsic desire of the completionist, to get to the next level, to accomplish the next badge or content unlock.


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