Gamification, words matter

by Federico Fasce on 22 August 2011

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Gamification is bullshit, says Ian Bogost. It’s for sure a harsh statement, especially if you lack the basic training in text analysis which enables you to fully understand what he’s really saying. Bear in mind that Ian is a passionate advocate about the use of games in everyday activity, having written two books about that, with a third one coming soon (FYI: Persuasive Games, Newsgames and the upcoming How to make things with videogames). His take on gamification is plain and simple: this term indicates a way of using games which is totally superficial and seldom working, if not plain wrong. So he tries to fight the spread of an uninteresting way of using games by negating the very word describing it. Ian knows well the power of words, so I guess his stance is totally understandable. Ian Bogost idea is that we must reject the term itself, to reject the distorted meaning it bears

Maybe there’s another way?

Jon Radoff commented Bogost’s post, remarking his ideas and adding the behavioral psychology point of view which I addressed in my previous post. I think it’s worth reading. Radoff thinks that the problem doesn’t lie in the term itself, but in how it’s applied. Jane McGonigal, which is one of the most appointed as gamification advocate, proposed another term, Gameful Design (back on this in a moment). She seems not to like the term as well, but she took a different strategy. Instead fighting it, she embraces the term, trying to transform its very meaning according to her vision. I guess it’s a natural result of her positive way to look at game design (and life in general), as Tadhg Kelly remarks here.

Or maybe another term?

So, the whole point is that even people regarded as “gamification advocates” (or that should be regarded that way for the work they did before the term even existed) have their own ways to fight the way gamification is intended today. On a sidenote: you may be surprised to know that badge’n'points based gamification is actually nothing new: it was used broadly in Soviet Union, as Mark J. Nelson said. Sebastian Deterding took MacGonigal’s idea of gameful design, and added the term playful design, starting from the ludus/paidia division made by Roger Caillois back in the ’60s. Which is a neat idea, given the fact that you don’t always want to turn a service into a game, but just make it fun to use (which is more playful than gameful).

As for me

Well, I’m kinda still looking for a good definition of “apply good game design to non games activities”. I’m not entirely convinced both in rejecting the term nor in embracing it. I guess game designers have the responsibility to explain how games work and how it’s possible to use them to improve the way we live. This is really important. This is the real gamification. And I’m convinced it’s still possible to do it.

Ian Bogost August 22, 2011 at 16:21

Where does Jane embrace the term? I think mostly she ignores it, talking about her Gameful Design strategy instead. Which is, more or less, exactly the rhetorical strategy I am advocating. If anything, Jane’s been wrongly associated with gamification by the latter’s advocates.

Federico Fasce August 22, 2011 at 16:45

Really? I can be wrong on the matter. Sometimes she’s introduced as gamification expert and she often uses the term during panel and talks (though always pointing out that she doesn’t like it).
Uhm, if I’m wrong I guess I need to apologize :/

Ian Bogost August 22, 2011 at 18:15

I don’t think she chooses the term willingly, in any case.

Federico Fasce August 26, 2011 at 09:07

Possibly. I heard her on a webinar some weeks ago, it was an interesting talk nontheless.

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