Sometime in 2010, the term “gamification” entered the techno-vernacular. Here’s the basic idea: by incorporating game mechanics into everyday activities, you can make them more fun–and therefore more engaging. It’s like using neural hacks to get people to engage more. Typically, gamification involves:
- Adding a point system to some sort of activity
- Providing visual measures of progress during the activity
- Adding rewards like badges, titles, etc. at certain point thresholds
No doubt, you’ve seen this showing up all over the place–not just in your favorite for-entertainment-only games.
I’m passionate about games. And I think these features can often be helpful. But aren’t most of these gamification techniques missing half (or more!) of what really makes a game fun?
Games are experiences! They are about involving you in an activity that is fundamentally fun (with or without point systems) and taking you through some sort of transformational journey–whether it’s about a character transforming from the mundane to the heroic, or simply teaching you a new skill that changes you in some way.
I first started thinking about gamification after hearing a GDC talk by Gabe Zicherman at GDC back in 2008 (back when he was calling it funware). At the time, the conversation was more about adding the immersive, fun character of games to other experiences; it was about engaging more of the brain to make things fun in novel ways.
I have to admit that I’m not in love with either the term funware or gamification. The former seems to trivialize the potential impact of a game’s experience; the latter sounds too technical. I’d like to see games make their way into more of our culture, because I think they have the power to change us for the better (see also: Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk, “Gaming Can Make a Better World”). But consider this my plea to anyone thinking about bringing games into their lives or business: it isn’t the game mechanics of games that are most important. It’s the experience of games–the story of the player.