Bit Slap: Gamification


Welcome to HEAVEmedia’s swap week! Our columnists have taken over each other’s articles all week long. Today – Rambling Dispatches columnist Quinn McGee takes over Dan Chruscinksi’s Bit Slap.

So I wanted to talk about something I don’t talk about all the time, but is incredibly fascinating to me. This is the topic of gamification. Now, you may already know what gamification is, but just in case you haven’t heard of it, I’ll explain from at least my perspective. Gamification is the fusion of video game set-ups and reward systems  with everyday, real-life activity. Let’s look at how most modern video games are structured when it comes to rewarding the player. Usually you collect a bunch of something, like a quest drop or kill streaks or something similar. The collection of these things leads to a reward of some kind when a certain amount of them are collected, like a new item for the character when you get the quest drops all together and call Cthulhu, or a special color when you kill enough people who don’t know where the crouch button is (I only sound salty about that because I’m the one who doesn’t know how to crouch ever).

I suppose it sounds similar to how most activities are structured. Good work in a job leads to you continuing that job, good work in school leads to an A in the class and good work in a relationship leads to you not moving out and having to buy a bunch of new albums that had an accident and tripped down the stairs. I think the real way that gamification differs from something like a performance review or grade system is that the rewards are more immediate, frequent, and apparent. Look at the game. There is a bar with how many kills or things collected you have, and how many you need. It’s apparent and visible, not some number that is calculated later. Also, the rewards are rather small, but many. When one reward is received, another reward is unlocked, maybe even something better than what was previously received. That leads to continued work with the reinforcement needed to get to the next reward. A job review is not structured like that. You are evaluated, told what you did wrong and told to meet again in a set time or to leave the office. That’s it. The reward may be an undisclosed raise on your paycheck, but you never have anything like a constant, visible incentive.

Why even talk about something like this? It sounds like a bunch of nerdy stuff that probably will never happen, except for the fact that it is everywhere and we’re already part of it. Look at all the people checking into places with their mobile phone. I know if you have a Facebook, you have that one friend who “checks in” with Foursquare all the time. It annoys the hell out of people, especially because I’m broke and Foursquare doesn’t recognize pants-less at home as a place to check in. Anyway, the checking in is not just letting people know where you are at; you can also get rewards for it. Some places give specials for those who check into Foursquare. Kind of like questing to an area and preforming an action to get a reward, no? It’s not so different than many of the popular RPGs out there in the world.

Another example of gamification I have seen directly affects me, because I am a Grouponaholic. I love that damn site, and having a phone with the app is dangerous. While looking through the app, I saw that there is a page called Rewards. Basically it gives you a place where it offers rewards to specific vendors if you spend a certain amount of money at these places. For example, spend $50 at a certain restaurant to unlock a reward. It even tracks the amount over time until you unlock the reward, which always reminds me of how the achievement system works with games like Halo and Battlefield 3 (a.k.a the only two FPS games I play and still can’t crouch). You even see a similar system in how credit card rewards and GameStop reward points are awarded. You spend money, you get points, and those points are used to reward the person.

All of these systems seem like ways to get a person to spend money, just like minor rewards in games get you to play the game continually until you get the reward. This might seem like a bad thing to some people, and it’s something that I don’t necessarily support all the time, but there are ways that I would like to see gamification done. Now, if you know me, you’ll know there is nothing I am more passionate about than education and talking about different ways to educate children. I saw an example online for how to use gamification in the context of schools, and I really liked it; sadly, the picture and description are no longer available. The students were assigned classes and awarded experience when they did things like attend class, participate, turn in assignments or do extra work in class.

This experience could be used to activate powers that would be beneficial to the student, like removing a question from a test, or allowing an extension on turning in an assignment if they forgot it at home. I have read articles that show that using rewards to get students to do things in academia is detrimental because it doesn’t promote a student’s drive to learn for themselves, but to learn for rewards. I understand that, but I really think there is something to be said about incorporating a part of life that appears to have taken a strong foothold in our everyday lives in education. I guess it’s more about playing ball instead of fighting a power stronger than yourself. Regardless if you believe that gamification is a good or bad thing, the reality is that it’s here and very prevalent in the world in which we live. I, for one, find it exciting that the two have similarities. Life isn’t a game, but we could use a little reward every now and then.