Into the Gamification Part 2

Are games good and does gamification deliver the goods?

Welcome back! In case you missed our last discussion, please check out Into the Gamification Part 1 to get caught up for this week. Are games good? What about gasification? The first question may be debated forever, but I would like to think many games can do some good. Take a moment to let Jane McGonigal explain some of the ways games can make for a better world.

So, if at least some games can be good, then using this games as gamification does must do some good, right? The second part of the gasification series explores the opposing viewpoint of gamificaion and then wraps up with some closing thoughts and a great video by James Paul Gee. McGonigal’s talk really demonstrates a possibility where games can become tools and motivators as well as how game-state mentalities can affect our psychological and physical well-being. This sort of blurs the lines of games as entertainment and presses their applications for non-game purposes. Although McGonigal mentions games specifically designed for play and health, the processes no less resemble those involved in gamification. Still, many are wary of gamification’s so-called benefits and games haven’t necessarily won hearts and minds as a better solution to health, business, or education. Although some simply raise an eyebrow at the concept, others have gone so far as to consider gamification as new-age mumbo-jumbo or even a marketing con job. A number of skeptics suspect  gamification agendas include making video games appear to have direct applications to education, industry, and one’s personal life, when in reality they only benefit the pockets of marketers and give hope to wishful thinkers.

So, what’s the catch according to those who say nay? Vulgarity Warning Ahead…

Indeed, gamification is an idea that’s relatable and definitely marketable to generations who grew up with video games. However, if you think all of the naysayers are fuddy duddies, angry politicians, or “too cool” socialites from outside the video game community, you’d be wrong. In fact, Ian Bogost is one the best known and respected names in gaming theory who also also happened to write a piece for the Atlantic entitled “Gamification is Bullshit.” You can find that article here: In case you still aren’t sure just how some feel about gasification, the picture below says it all.



In short, Bogost appears to view gamification as the attempted taming of games’ mystique for the use of corporate marketing purposes. He quite simply and with no hesitation implies that gamification is a tool of “bullshitters.” The article clarifies that BS is not about lies so much as it is about the the intention to “conceal, impress, or coerce,” primarily for the purpose of making a sell. For those in the gamification business, this means intentionally or unintentionally misinterpreting games and retrofitting them into a saleable package of strategies with the simple “ification” labeling to make the make the whole thing somehow seem legit. How about those who truly believe in gamfication? If we go by the article, it seems these folks are probably just  bullshitting themselves. So, does this mean Bogost detests learning from video games? Quite the opposite. Bogost has written a number of intriguing books about the ways we can learn from video games. His position doesn’t seem to question the viability of the games themselves as knowledge-makers. Rather, it becomes clear that Bogost views gamification as some sort of snake oil labeled in tantalizing, but unmoral rhetoric.What is apparent is that Bogost has a great respect for the soul of games and adamantly opposes their exploitation.For those who study game theory, this can be a difficult pill because it poses the possibility that even though we can learn from games, the elements of games we find so dear cannot be directly applied in industry without us somehow stepping into the “bullshit.” 

Is gamification the real deal or a sleight of hand?  Into the rough we go…

I wanted to present two sides of the gasification argument so that you can weigh in however you wish. My personal opinion lies somewhere in the middle of the two viewpoints, a rough spot of sorts where the tedious tooling of theory and practice must take place.

First, I think gamification holds great value when good theory and practice are applied. It’s not something that one can just slap together and dispense with cursory knowledge, which may happen all too often. To acknowledge folks like Bogost who have spent much of their career in game theory, games present an art, beauty, philosophy, and understanding requiring due diligence and devotion. I’d be mad too if I suspected someone intentionally tried to sell gamification in a way that put profits above integrity or the value of really helping someone. Nonetheless, my great respect for Bogost and understanding of his passion for games makes me wonder if such frustrations are aimed at marketing corporatization of games or if he truly feels all gamification is bullshit? I know of people, specifically educators, who have successfully used gamification processes without any desire to conceal, impress, or coerce anyone-and they certainly didn’t make a profit doing so. They simply believe gamification can help their students. I also don’t think adding “ification” necessarily makes anything simple or instantly transforms it into a marketing ploy. Moreover, justifying most things as “simple” is often complicated and dangerous territory to enter. To write off gamification as simple and exploitative bullshit is to also imply that everyone who uses gamification is an ignorant or exploitative bullshitter, and that suggestion is probably…well, bullshit.

Second, it’s easy to see how there can be so many opinions on games with such a wide range of perspectives and experiences. Video games can reach a huge crossroads between business, education, entertainment, and society. Some people will stake their knowledge of video games on spending entire academic careers learning about the subject. Others will stake it on their many hours of gameplay. And still others will have barely ever played a video game but can see the possibility for games in new and exciting ways. As such, you can get a really wide variety of motives and quality for gamification practices. Some of it will be gold and some of it will indeed be “bullshit.”  Such is the case with most things and makes up this great rough spot we have to sort through.

The Takeaway…

Personally, I believe games can teach us in a number of both intended or unintended ways. Because gamification might be used in your workspace, education, or even reflected in the games you play, this issue will eventually arrive at your doorstep someday. We can critique games for what they might say about business, education, society or ourselves, and while a game developer might not have created a feature specifically for academic purposes, such value may exist anyway. Let’s use academics as an example. Think about many of the great classic novels we read as students. These were not written by authors who pondered over their use in  for academic purposes. Shakespeare, Dickens, Melville, and Dickinson likely never penned their writings to make sure they would one day fit a Student Learner Outcome(SLO) or meet a districts curriculum requirements. Can you imagine Poe stopping to say “This is driving me crazy! How can I write  this poem about a raven so that will fit Mr. Larskey’s poetry and novels class a hundred and fifty years from now?” The fact of the matter is that none of these authors ever knew or intended to be academic hallmarks, but we did use them in a way other than originally intended and we did “gamify” them by using their elements and techniques for our own purposes-and maybe we are all the better for it. Games are the same in many respects and they continue to evolve in their usefulness and purposes. Some will raises eyebrows and criticize games, and in those moments maybe we should think back to the critics Millville’s day who bashed Moby Dick as a virtually worthless novel. To bring us back to the center point, maybe we shouldn’t make assertions about what games can or cannot do from a cursory whim, but rather seek out possibilities from each other in order to craft new lenses of discoveries. If games and the real world have an undeniable connective point, it is that both are puzzle spaces with complex environments of exploration-and we are, like it or not, the explorers.

Get involved…

 Clearly, we are far from the final word on the subject. Is gamification truly possible and valuable? Is it transferrable? Is it just bullshit? Where do you stand? Maybe you even have a few questions, concerns, or ideas. Thanks as always for tuning in and we’ll be back next week to discuss part one of our genre discussion. Until then, I leave you with a real treat from the living legend, Dr.  James Paul Gee.  play on!

Next week we are diving into genres so we’ll see you then. In the meantime, enjoy these treats!  

A Special thanks to Dr. Chris Thorne of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for giving me permission to use Dr. James Paul Gee’s video. You are a gentleman and a scholar…pure Gold! 


Ted.(2010). Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world. Retrieved July 27, 2016, from

Thorn, C. (2013). Jim Gee Principles on Gaming. Retrieved July 27, 2016, from

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