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Essay: The Realm of Engagement and Motivation – Enter Gamification

Posted by on November 6, 2017

The Realm of Engagement and Motivation:

The twisted version of gamification

Having done my masters on a twisted version of the gamification realm of engagement and motivation, I often feel quite invigorated by my “up-and-coming” approach to work environments. This gets put very clearly into perspective when speaking to developers in the IT world, where I get told quite readily that gamification is an old concept from 2013 and not worth that much investment. It’s at this point that I truly start to despise how trends fluctuate and spike depending on the profit motive driving them. Why has gamification gotten this bad rep? Why is it that we find this thought only in specific spheres of professionalisation? And why is gamification now not good enough when, merely 5 years prior, it was heralded as the newest form of engagement for these pesky millennials starting to run the show?

Considering my very strong desire to approach this topic, I’ll break down these questions one by one and give my own impression of the very “opinionistically” driven insights that these questions bring forth. First of all, I do have to put into perspective the parallels and disconnects of timelines. When one is investigating anything in the research world, one needs to have tangible facts and data to investigate. These build up a repository of information that can be drawn on to illuminate answers to questions (or at least as equivalent to an answer to a hypothesis one can get). The more one has data on a certain subject, the more one can gain depth and insights across different levels and angles associated with the topic. This means that, while five to twenty years sounds long, in the world of research, that still accounts as a relatively young topic. It isn’t, for example, as data rich as a topic such as values which has been under scrutiny for much, much longer, therefore stemming forth multiple theories, assessments, and applications. Five to twenty years, is, in fact, only enough time to get researchers interested in the thing in the first place.

This was part of the reason why I was so intrigued by gamification. In its essence: applying game mechanics to real world scenarios for the purpose of driving engagement and motivation towards certain task completion (I should probably insert the reference to this definition, but I’ve repeated it so many times that I can’t remember where exactly it came from – I’ll include a list of must-read articles/books if anyone is interested in the topic). So we have this topic; in research terms relatively new; and overall an untapped area of potential. And then, five years later, we get told gamification is old and doesn’t work. So, what now? Surely we haven’t given this thing a chance to gain traction? Surely we haven’t allowed ourselves to experience the different areas of application? Surely we haven’t actually thought of the various alternatives and potential??

Maybe we have. When a new thing comes out, it’s the masses that speak volumes. The ways in which we can monitor response rates these days in incredible. Crowd-sourcing happens whether people are aware of it or not. The sort of information available to even the most rudimentary internet-searcher is astonishing. Just to illustrate, I had a fellow masters student who completed her data collection simply by looking at comparing three big companies in the country and the number of unethical reports associated with each (ranging from social media platforms through to official news reports available online). She ended up getting so much rich data that she had to limit her search to the last 12 months only, rather than the 3 years she had originally indicated.

So if the masses are the ones that speak up about the end product, then maybe the problem lies in the implementation of the product to begin with. Maybe that means that gamification, as a theory, is pretty darn good – it’s the way in which it was carried out that had an impact on its lifespan. This, to me, makes more sense. After all, anything good in the mind can become rubbish in reality. And with so much investment thrust towards a theory still in its infancy, one can almost too easily foresee the drastic decrease in performance that might come forth.

With gamification, it often sounds too good to be true. People having fun doing tasks that they don’t like doing, and still wanting to come back for more? And some of the more popularly known gamification products are all pointing towards one particular application – getting people to spend money. The majority of gamified products are in line with consumer behaviour; adjusting products to be more readily available on social media platforms with a great amount of “sharability”, all to get the consumer-base to spend more readily and invest more time into the platform.

This goes so against every idea that I have of gamification. Okay, maybe not every idea…but close enough that I feel a little morbid about the death of this topic. Gamification is not meant to be limited to these areas of application! Also, the very strong drive towards integrating technology into the real world is often almost forced in most cases of gamification. I read an entire book which detailed how to adjust websites towards “gamification”, and by the time I was finished with the book I wanted to pull out my hair, I was so frustrated. Gamification, in accordance with its own definition, actually doesn’t even need technology. All it needs is an imagination strong enough to adjust the environment for inclusion of game mechanics. Maybe this needs some clarification, just to jog the mind into the right mindset…

Think of kids playing. Play is different to games, because there is no true purpose to it. It’s just applying one’s mind towards being entertained. This is incredibly important, true. But it does become quite pointless after a while. As we grow up, we still “play”, but we start to add a bit more meaning to our actions by including goals, areas of comparison, and rules by which we can ascertain performance. Think about children running around – eventually they change this “play” into a “game” by including something like a goal. In this case, let’s make it tag-you’re-it. All of a sudden, there is a way of knowing who is performing and who isn’t. Include the ability to keep track of those things, and one can start to gain some relevant information that changes the way in which the game is played (for example, if one knows who is least often “it” because maybe they’re very fast or agile, the group could choose to even the playing field by having that person start as “it”). Was there any technology in this example? In its purest form, no… So what differentiates this from gamification? Well, simply put, this example illustrates how easily an environment can be turned into a game – except that with gamification the goal is in relation to the real world, and the magic circle of where the game is applied is almost limitless in its expanse. That’s what sets gamification apart from games itself – the purpose of playing.

I think what I’m trying to illustrate here is that the thing that sets gamification apart from things like simulations and serious games and general websites and all of those other tech-savvy things, is its absolute flexible nature. Anything can be a game. Anything can be made to fit the magic circle. And nothing limits the magic circle when gamification is done right. This over-emphasis on technology to implement gamification puts severe stress on its application – not to mention limits those who have access to its realms. Gamification is meant to be an open field of possibilities. Not a closed circuit-board with only one intended pathway. The moment we start to look at it like that, is the moment that we see the lifespan of gamification extend into immeasurable perceptions.

I started off this essay with questions about the current status of gamification, and why its sudden surge into fashion has dwindled quite so severely. Maybe the real question to ask is something else entirely. Given that technology is here to stay, and given that we are humans in the real world, the question can be phrased differently: how can we use game mechanics to s(t)imulate a seamless interaction of engagement and expand the magic circle to the world?

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For sources and reading material pertaining to gamification, drop me a comment and I’ll be happy to respond with the most appropriate references relative to your search

Wonderwhiterabbit hopping off…

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