The word gamification has sprung up and grown like a mushroom over the last few years. One piece of research has it as number 3 in the top 8 trends for 2018. But what exactly is it and more importantly for those leading, managing and owning businesses what is the value of using games to tackle organisational and business problems?
Wikipedia discusses the subject extensively, saying “Gamification commonly employs game design elements to improve user engagement…”. Another site offers comments on the G-word that are less than favourable.“Gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business where bullshit already reigns anyway.”
The article continues “The rhetorical power of the word ‘gamification’ is enormous. And it does precisely what the bullshitters want: it takes games – a mysterious, magical powerful medium that has captured the attention of millions of people – and it makes them accessible in the context of contemporary business.”
At this point you might conclude that Gamification is a very powerful tool invented and used by consultants with something slippery and perhaps pointless about its application. Is there more?
Looking for enlightenment Harry G Frankhurt who taught at Princeton University from 1990 to 2002 and went on to be Professor Emeritus has an article On Bullshit.. He defines bullshit as “speech intended to persuade without regard for truth”. He continues “the liar cares about the truth and attempts to hide it: the bullshitter doesn’t care if what they say is true or false, but rather only cares whether or not their listener is persuaded”.
Does that mean that games and simulation should be discarded? Those who create them are certainly looking to take a real issue and “make a game of it”. Luckily, the Frankfurt text implies a willingness to deceive and a desire to convince without any concern for truth. This is not true for most of those involved in designing games and simulations. While the objective of the game or simulation will vary in all cases the final objective is the driver, game elements are the means to achieve it, and there is no intention to deceive.
This said there is an aspect post game, let me call it, “de-gamification”. This is the stage where participants are encouraged to reflect on the in-game lessons and consider to what degree they can be applied back in their everyday world.
There are obstacles that make the de-gamification process hard. “Game” has strong connotations of “not real’ and ‘played for fun’. The connotation of ‘played to learn’ is weaker. Indeed it can be hard to decide what is a game and what is not. A famous quote from Bill Shankly runs:“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it’s much more serious than that”.
The humour obscures the fact that football is indeed a serious matter when you consider the money involved, the commitment of those playing and administering, and all the supporters.
Game like features used to arouse interest must be carefully watched lest the experience is remembered for the fun aspect and not for the learning it was intended to convey. As an example, some senior managers commissioning a game or simulation may demand “I must have a winner to whom I can present a prize”. To that winner, the joy of success may be remembered while the learning element is forgotten
There must be skill both in gamifying and de-gamifying so the importance of the subject is not overlooked. Design and facilitation teams must be concerned to encourage reflection and down-play comments about having produced a good game.