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A Recipe for Meaningful Gamification

Gamification has been quite the buzz word for the last few years, although I haven’t seen too much in the headlines recently.

Sebastian Deterding defined gamification as introducing game design elements in non-game contexts in the presentation below:

From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining "Gamification" from Sebastian Deterding

Deterding has since been upset at how gamification is thought to be nothing more than using incentives to reward people (press button, receive points/badge/achievement) for doing what the designers want them to do, and he argues that good game design and a larger purpose behind it all is still needed to make it successful.

Gamification isn’t new, and people have been talking about it for decades under different terms. Deterding has since preferred “Gameful Design” as a term instead.

I recently learned about Scott Nicholson, associate professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. He researches learning through games, and he’s the director of Because Play Matters Game Lab, which is meant to create transformative games and play for informal learning environments.

Nicholson is interested in Meaningful Gamification, which he defines as “using game design elements to help users find meaning in non-game contexts.”

So, you are trying to establish long-term change and making such effort intrinsic rather than relying on rewards to keep it going. There’s a lot of research on compensation in the workplace. The old carrot-and-stick approach seems logical. If you want people to produce more, you reward them with more pay. If you want to stop some behavior, you punish. If you take away those rewards and punishments, people will revert to behavior you don’t necessarily want.

But for some time there has been the idea that extrinsic motivation actually reduces productivity. A person told that he/she will be rewarded for doing an activity will be more likely to stop doing the activity when the reward stops than a person who was not presented with an award.

Nicholson created the following recipe to help create meaningful gamification:

  • Reflection – assisting participants in finding other interests and past experiences that can deepen engagement and learning
  • Exposition – creating stories for participants that are integrated with the real-world setting and
    allowing them to create their own
  • Choice – developing systems that put the power in the hands of the participants
  • Information – using game design and game display concepts to allow participants to learn more about the real-world context
  • Play – facilitating the freedom to explore and fail within boundaries
  • Engagement – encouraging participants to discover and learn from others interested in the real-world setting

I think choice is interesting, because a lot of gamification interest comes from the idea that if you create a game that everyone in your organization must play, then it will drive the behavior the organization wants, when it’s not actually the case.

More information about this recipe is at the Because Play Matters Game Lab website.