The playable web is (almost) here

by Federico Fasce on 19 June 2011

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It seems Techcrunch has realized that game design applied to the social web is here to stay. To me, the playable web could really be the next big thing if we can evolve from the superficial and sometimes plain wrong “gamification” idea. As Sebastian Deterding puts it, Gameful and Playful design could be the way for a gamification which is not exploitationware. To me, Bogost’s Persuasive Games, together with this post by Dan Cook are still the best ways to look at it. We must get over behaviorism.

francescop June 20, 2011 at 15:51

I don’t understand the meaning of your last sentence.
Your suggestions and the posts you cite seem to be based upon solid behavioristic principles. Particularly the nice presentation by Dan Cook.

Federico Fasce June 20, 2011 at 16:19

When I say that we must get over behaviorism I don’t mean we have to abandon it entirely.

The process of learning new skills is of course based on behaviorism. But it’s something that works at an intrinsic level: the sense of accomplishment is derived by a neurotransmitter boost. It’s a chemical reaction happening in our brain. When this mechanism becomes extrinsic (i.e.: you get an achievement because you checked in x different places in Foursquare) they lose their power. That’s the wrong part in the current way a lot of people intends gamification.

So, my proposal is to recognize the importance of behaviorism at a physiological level, but to focus more on emotions, cognition and such (which are the things triggering the dopamine and neurotransmitter system in our brain), abandoning the awful idea that points and achievements are enough to generate engagement.

francescop June 20, 2011 at 20:52

Ok Federico, I see your point but I have to disagree with you. Let me say in advance that I am a behaviorist – I spent my entire (although short) career to this point in this field of study, so my opinion is of course on one side.

There is – necessarily! – a continuum between the physical and psychological world. When a reinforcer works, that means that neurotransmitters are released: otherwise there would not be any kind of learning. Any kind of reaction at all, actually.

The error, from a psychological point of view, is to focus on the microscopical level of neurotransmitters, where you cannot do anything (you cannot yourself release dopamine in one’s brain), instead of focusing on the behavioral level, where you can actually make a difference.

If you find a lawful relation between behavior and context (such as: points usually work at the supermarket, they make people come back – this is just a very rough example of course), then I think you should focus on these relations, instead of thinking of what happens inside your brain, or your stomach or whatever. Who cares, that happens by itself :)
I agree with you when you emphasize the importance of emotions. They are just part of the learning process. A contingency of reinforcement produces emotions. Even points can produce emotions: they are just a very basic kind of reinforcement.

A great problem we are facing nowadays is that “neuromania” looks so “scientific” (labs, microscopes, computers…), it’s sexy and look so serious. But the real important think, in science, is to achieve experimental control, manipulate variables and find basic principles you can use to control and predict phenomena. That is, for us, behavior. That is something we have achieved, we have very reliable principles, tested and optimized for decades in laboratory, real-world and clinical settings. It’s a pity to see that people usually have no access to this great findings – and that’s why I end up writing so looooong and boring comments on friends’ blogs :)

Let me just finish suggesting a great reading for anyone interested in these studies (I hope html tags work in these comments).

Federico Fasce June 21, 2011 at 08:56

Well, heck.
Thanks for the comment. Obviously I’m no behaviorist, so every point of view is mostly welcome here.

I must stress that I’m not against behaviorism. I recognise operant conditioning as a really important part in the way we learn. Still, I’m not convinced that everything could be reduced to a simple matter of stimuli and behavioral answers and vice versa. We are more complex than that. Emotions are not just the sum of some reinforcements, all the cognition is not like that. So, when I say we must move on, well, I’m not abandoning the concept. I’m looking for more.

Why I’m doing that? I’ve got two answers.

First, for ethics. I can’t stand gamification rethoric. It exploits people, ignoring their dignity. I think games can do a hell more than this. But they need to go deeper than simple reward systems (which by the way are not even game mechanics).

Secondly, because it doesn’t work so well as marketers are saying. Yes, I know the argument on supermarket points. Except it’s not applicable here: they for sure can make me choose a place over another. But I still need to buy stuff for my survival. Do I need to check in on Foursquare for survive? Not at all. Though it can work for some people, not for other. As I said, we’re more complex than that. And no, I’m not buying the “you get an emotion even when you get points”, sorry. The first time, maybe. Then you get used to it, and it’s over.

Games can do better than that.

francescop June 21, 2011 at 19:22

I totally agree with you federico, except in the conclusion.
Our lives are far more complex than a simple reward system made of points. They involve emotions, even complex and culture-driven ones, thoughts, beliefs..

Just, don’t think that complex behavior falls outside our scientific comprehension, because that’s not true. Today, we can account for complex learning, verbal behavior, emotions, even thoughts (you can read something about relational frame theory), and professionals use these solid principles to treat complex diseases like autism or depression, or to build effective learning environments… Science, it works :)

So, I’m no game designer at all, and that’s why i am so curious about the notions and beliefs of game designers.. my question is, why don’t they (you?) use notions we already have, to interpret and modify gaming behavior? Or, possibly, which principles are they already using, and they just call it another way?

I think you game designers have a need for effectiveness. A game must work – it must be attractive, involving, funny, satisfying…
Basic and applied research have the same objective: we must find principles and procedures that always works – or an approximation to that, of course.
That’s like checking in at the same pub, isn’t it? ;)

Federico Fasce June 22, 2011 at 11:03

There was a misunderstanding. I’m not saying that complex behavior falls outside our scientific comprehension. Not at all! Besides, game design itself is science more than black magic ;)

So, yes! Definitely, it’s like you’re saying: we need to find principles and procedures that always work. But that’s exactly where a lot of gamification advocates are failing right now: they think that the simple extrinsic reward of points could be enough to improve an experience. This is basic Skinner beahaviorism, but psychology built a lot more in all these years!

So my idea will be to explore more, to study cognition, emotion, intrinsic motivation and so on.

This should be the real path towards gamification. Just add points seems so trivial to me :)

Gian June 26, 2011 at 11:21

Fede I have to kiss you! :D
Francescop, very interesting your suggestions, but you could be too reductionist.
We are a super complex system and the best strategy is a convergence of different psychological, biological, neurological points of view.
It’s a matter of granularity. Sometimes it’s usefull a psychosocial or systemic or form infant research theories. The elefant is too big and we’re too “blind”, we need a better convergence of models not a reduction.

Davide 'Folletto' Casali June 26, 2011 at 13:56

“But that’s exactly where a lot of gamification advocates are failing right now: they think that the simple extrinsic reward of points could be enough to improve an experience.”

Bang. That’s it. Absolutely right.

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