Monday, April 4, 2011

What Gamification is not

This is (kind of) a reply to this article. The author accuses gamification of misleading people and being childish. The point being that it's wrong to hide real problems underneath a gamified reality. I myself am now two thirds into McGonigal's book Reality is Broken, and unless I ignore most of what I've read, there is just no way I can agree with Chaplin. In less friendly terms, I think the article is a load of bull.

Like I said before, gamification is powerful, and we need to be responsible about it. However, I seriously do not think it is compelling enough to make people do just about anything. The rule of thumb here is: if there is zero incentive to do something, gamification does not magically create it. This is openly admitted by gamification advocates. Another thing to keep in mind is Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. The theory goes: unless the lower level needs are met, people do not feel any strong desire for higher level needs. It's that simple. Can you figure out where games fit in that hierarchy? Yeah, you guessed it: we don't give a shit about playing a game when our safety is compromised. So sorry, I can't see how "Instead, they are trafficking in fantasies that ignore the realities of day-to-day life. This isn't fun and games—it's a tactic most commonly employed by repressive, authoritarian regimes." You see, unlike authoritarian regimes, games we partake voluntarily do not command any actual authority over us.

Let's move on to: "Chore Wars is a benign example—if pretending you're being rewarded helps you do your chores, fine. But it reveals that McGonigal is not advocating any kind of real change, as she purports, but rather a change in perception: She wants to add a gamelike layer to the world to simulate these feelings of satisfaction, which indeed people want." If there actually was the option to magically make chores disappear, most people would take it, no? However, there isn't. Not now, not in the near future. So how exactly is it fair to blame gamification for not solving problems that are not solvable with our current technology at all? Yeah, I thought so too. The point of Chore Wars is to enable players to get better feedback on doing their chores, set short term goals and add unnecessary obstacles. I typed enable in bold because I think it's the definite keyword here.

Chores are not optional. We do not gamify them to get people to do them, we gamify them to make them more fun and motivating. See, the incentive is already there: someone has to do it, and that someone is most likely yourself. Gamification is not some black magic that compels people to do their chores. So really, what exactly is bad about providing virtual feeling of satisfaction for an activity that in itself has little to no satisfaction? Once basic needs have been met, enjoying life is about perception. If we can create the tools that allow people to improve their experience of life, I don't see a reason why we should not create them. I can see why Chaplin can think we shouldn't when she writes "Do adults really need to pretend they're superheroes on secret missions to have meaning in their lives?". This is representative of the world view that has been impended upon gamers many times. My answer: if it improves their experience of life, why the hell not?

So how gamification does help? Not everyone has the mental strength to just start doing all the things that are supposed to be good for us, like exercise, healthier eating and being more motivated about our jobs. It needs practice. Being happy is not easy. Gamification has the power to make it easier for people to overcome themselves, as it provides clearer goals and better feedback. Even though it is artificial, it allows us to measure progress in many activities where results are not immediately visible. It allows us to set goals that can be met and obstacles that make activities more interesting, even if they are harder. It changes the way we think about things we either have to do or should do or are doing. Finally, it allows us to play together and connect.

I do think frequent flyer points are evil. Skinnerboxed games, likewise. We already talked about this. More importantly, the concerns and limitations of gamification have been notified by advocates already. I think Chaplin simply does not like that we are having fun doing stuff that should not be fun. This is sadly a world view that is even this day shared by many many people, including those in places of power. But we gamers are growing in numbers and we will gamify our future if it pleases us. It's 'opt in' baby, so feel free to be left out if you don't want to share the fun.

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