Life is a Game

Over the past couple of months I’ve seen a variety of discussions taking place concerning the positives and negatives of using the term “gamification” in reference to learning. In the educational community there are often negative connotations associated with the idea. Being rewarded an incentive (in this example a badge) in learning, seems to be clouding the discussion. Some people are looking at it like the incentives are “payment” for learning. I don’t think the idea is that we bribe people to learn, I think it’s about marking their achievements. Badges are “incentives” to an extent, but what the community is really trying to do is to create a bridge between formal and informal learning and show a more personalized map of milestones.

I’ve already taken a stand on the issue (more than once) by loudly and insistently vocalizing my fondness for games and explaining my definition of gamification. Still, I’m feeling like I should be a little bit more explicit because the negativity surrounding that particular term irritates me. I’m unclear as to why we are not allowed to use this vocabulary to further the discussion.

It’s a semantic argument, and I think that semantic arguments are generally a waste of time. They can be a lot of fun (in bars), especially if you get into a combo semantic argument that throws in dialectic etymology. Fun is not a waste of time, but arguing over the term “gamification” in this context isn’t really necessary.

It’s already been shown that incentivizing learning ups motivation. And it’s not like it’s a new concept. I got a gold star when I did well in my second grade show and tell. In third grade, I busted my ass to get stickers because our teacher always bought scratch-n-sniff fruit. My favorite was the lemon. Hell, in college I showed up to the classes I didn’t want to go to because I was motivated by an incentive called a “degree”.

Tony Walsh, founding partner of the game company Phantom Compass, gave a talk on games back in June, and I thought he had some really good points. He talked about how games are everywhere. He talked about customer cards and loyalty programs. He talked about the reality of games in our social worlds. He talked about real life being kind of like a game. I can think of a million examples for this, and I’m sure you can too.

I understand that the term “gamification” is a buzzword at the moment, and that some people are annoyed by the usage in more serious contexts like learning, but the term aptly describes the mechanics that motivate people.

So maybe we can skip the semantic argument surrounding the term “gamification” and accept that learning should be fun, and game elements are a good way to facilitate fun. Maybe we can look at the innovative things happening in assessment and recognition for informal learning and understand that we’re all trying to fix the same problems. Maybe those of us that use the term “gamification” or the concept of game mechanics can stop focusing on the defense of our terminology and go back to focusing on innovative approaches to learning and assessment.

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Life is a Game

One thought on “Life is a Game

  1. I completely agree that what is needed in gamification is incentives. Over a decade ago I started using game mechanics in corporate training environments, and I’ve found that the incentives placed on completing training were the biggest factor in how well the trainees did.

    I don’t think fun is what make people play games, or what makes games addictive. Most games are terrible unfun. Games are really addictive because of the sense of accomplishment players get from them, and the near-instant feedback players receive. (see this article).

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