Gamification: Still a bad word

Bring up the word ‘gamification’ to many game makers and you’ll get a common response -- a facial expression that’s similar to what you might have after accidentally stepping in dog droppings on the street. Google ‘Gamification, bad word’ and you’ll find your share of diatribes against this whole trend, though the problem seems to be less about the idea -- using game-like mechanics to change behavior -- and more about the term used to describe it.

Bring up the word ‘gamification’ to many game makers and you’ll get a common response -- a facial expression that’s similar to what you might have after accidentally stepping in dog droppings on the street.

Google ‘Gamification, bad word’ and you’ll find your share of diatribes against this whole trend, though the problem seems to be less about the idea -- using game-like mechanics to change behavior -- and more about the term used to describe it.

Last year, the Game Developers Conference, an annual video game industry conference held each March, featured an entire tract of events devoted to the subject of Gamification. This year, the conference still includes the same content devoted to the topic, but instead of using the dirty G-word, that portion of the event is simply called Game IT (a name that GDC Director Meggan Scavio tells me that hasn’t won over any fans either).

And, she also says, next year the conference will probably will get rid of the separate gamification tract altogether (working that content into the rest of the show instead) since the show’s target audience, professional game developers, still largely consider gamification a marketing ploy, rather than something that can be used to -- as author Jane McGonigal argues -- change the world.

I tend to agree with McGonigal. Gamification, or whatever word you want to use to describe it, can be used for powerful stuff. Take, for example, the countless diet and fitness apps that make a game out of getting healthy. Since I don’t make games, I guess I’ll never quite understand the visceral reaction -- kind of like a vampire running into a room filled with garlic -- that some traditional game makers have to this whole movement.  Sure, I can appreciate the argument that it’s a bastardization of an art form, etc., but in a lot of ways, it’s also a unique opportunity to apply those skills in a way that touch people in truly meaningful -- even life-saving -- ways.

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