Problems with “Gamification”

I mentioned in one of the previous posts that my thinking has been reshaped because of preparing for the gamification course at Purdue.  However, after thinking about the gamification courses I taught/teach, I am convinced that the word “gamification” does not truly portray what companies are trying to do.

I perceive that many companies are imagining gamification only as a means to incorporating games within their design.  I have seen many start-ups that are trying hard to impose games into various contexts, which don’t even make sense.  I don’t think that these start-ups are going to be successful in the long term.  Similarly, I have engaged in many conversations (some of them with my students also) that reflect serious attempts to formulate a game in irrelevant scenarios.  I was struggling to identify where the issue is.  The fundamental problem lies in what we call as gamification.  Our nomenclature restricts our thinking in many ways.

First, let me take my professorial role to explain what the concept of gamification fundamentally relates to.   It is a very simple idea.  Think about two different worlds.  In one world, some target set of people are not engaged in an intended manner (not purchasing product, or not providing reviews, etc.).  Suppose we can conceive of the second world that is interconnected to the first one — i.e., the actions in the second world can be mapped into actions in the first.  The main concept is how do you design the second world so that the target audience’s behavior in the first world is as intended?

Games are one form of designing the second world and generating the mapping.  It should be clear that it is just a form.  What we actually are doing is that we are “designing for human instincts.”  This is the main concept behind several of the recent transformations I see in this world.  Because games have been around for ages, we find its appeal instinctively.  However, instead of referring to the phenomenon as “design of instincts,” we are restricting our ability to come up with new transformations when we call the concept gamification.


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