What in the world is gamification?
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Many people who hear the term gamification for the fist time tend to assume that it physically involves using video games for a purpose such as business or learning. Athough a lot of gaming theorists certainly do use video games in a physical way, gamification actually involves utilizing video game design, mechanics, symbols, and themes for non-game applications. It’s also about condition states and goals. Think about how games involve elements such as leveling, rewards/trophies, collaboration, exploration, time management, and identity in various ways. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever played a timed level in a game where you have to navigate a complicated environment filled with obstacles in order to get a prize. Now, think about how these could be used in business, health, and education for example. Maybe there is a deadline and you have to wade through various operations and paperwork in order get an important report done. Or maybe you are a customer looking for a really good rewards program or enjoy an app that supports your loyalty. These scenarios depict some of the areas ripe for gamification. Gamification processes try to identify how game concepts can actually make these tasks more efficient and rewarding. If this is your first time hearing about gamification, a few raised eyebrows are expected.
What companies really use gamification?
Starbucks, The Mars Corporation, Spotify, Nike, Google, many colleges and universities, and a trailing list that would go on for pages use gamification techniques. For example, Nike has a running program where its customers can download an app that allows them to create a profile and track their progress. There are course choices (levels), GPS maps, words of support from professional athletes, leaderboards, trophies, and color-coded leveling systems. This is gamification and it’s big fun, big motivation, and big business. How about those fun little Google image games? They may be fun, but they also work to give us more information about important people or events. It’s a game that leads to some knowledge. What about on the employer/employee end of things? Some companies have complex gamification elements where employees incorporate teams, trophies, and challenges that all net rewards. Other times its simple elements from games such as Target’s checkout game or Walmart’s old game where customers could take an employees dollar if they don’t smile and greet customers. In many ways, gamification has actually existed for quite some time, but now we are becoming all the more aware and able to use technology to implement theses game features. Among the top gamification folks in the world, Gabe Zichermann is probably one of the most prolific. You can check out his site here: http://dopa.mn
Okay, but education…?
Education has also used gamifaction in various ways, including badges, trophies, specialized points, and experience points to name just a few. Some courses have directly used gamification such as University of Pennsylvania’s Gamification course here or Dr. Cliff Lampe’s Informatics course here at the University of Michigan.
That’s just crazy talk…or is it?
One of the more fun and possibly more sensible options to some is to replace letter grades with experience points. This might sound a little crazy, but let’s look at it from a fresh point of view. We’ve been in this mindset of encouraging processes over products for some time in education, and experience points are all about the process of overcoming obstacles over time to earn value (experience), whereas letter grades are really geared towards a product minded philosophy. How many times has someone asked what they needed to do to get a certain letter grade (product minded)? How about those parents who are more interested in letter grades than specifically what is learned? Let’s also plug that into life after school. Who has ever said, “Sally is our most proficient A-F employee so she should get the Dobbins account”? or “Bob needs to shoot for at least a 80% on this project to help average out that 52% he did on the last project so that he can keep his job. ” Silliness, right? On the other hand, Sally might get the account (challenge/reward) because she is the most experienced employee with the right skill set. Bob should try to his very best on the project because it will gain him valuable experience and access to a deserved reward (promotion, raise, better assignment or office, etc.) or so that he can keep his job. So does this mean that everybody passes if there are no grades in school? No, not at all. You have to get enough experience to get to the “next level,” but there’s a driving force behind gaining experience with reward that trumps letter grade averages. Just ask gamers who grind for hours to get that extra level bonus or the employee who views experience as form of currency and mobility within the company.
So gamification is the wonderful end all route to success in business, education, and life?
Not so fast! Gamification seems to have a lot of merit and you may have a million ideas of how to use it at after reading this post, but in order for us to be objective we must look at the flipside of the coin. Next week we will return to part two where we look at some of the slippery slopes of gamification and end the series with some final thoughts…and a small treat. For now, let’s hear your thoughts on today’s piece and we’ll meet again next week. In the meantime, play on!
TedxKids. (2011). TEDxKids@Brussels – Gabe Zichermann – Gamification. Retrieved July 27, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2N-5maKZ9Q