BLAP: You have gained +1 in Gamification!
Recently, Erik Martin talked about Gamifying Education on this blog, which was an exploration of some of the issues of our educational system from someone who is dealing with it. I will be continuing these concepts as I talk about meaningful gamification, but first, I thought it might be useful to step back and look at the basics of gamification so that everyone is on the same.. um.. level.
What is Gamification?
You may have heard of the term “Gamification” – it first appeared a few years ago and has been growing since then. As typically happens in a growing field, a term is introduced, then scholars spend a few years thinking, processing, and grazing from each other’s ideas trying to make a definition that sticks.
When I look for a definition to use in scholarship, I like to find a simple definition and work from there. I like to open the barn doors wide in thinking about a concept – I find that if you define things too narrowly, you can lose potential connections and ideas by closing them out.
For example, the definition of game that I like to use is that a game is a “form of play with goals and structure,” which is a 2001 definition by Kevin Maroney. There are many more complex definitions of games, but this one brings together the three key parts of a game and has worked well for me.
Sebastian Deterding has been a leading thinker on gamification and has been my inspiration in getting me to think seriously about it. I used to be alongside those that hated the term and just threw spears at it from afar, but after seeing Sebastian’s talk about gamification, I realized that there is a lot of potential in what gamification could be used for and how the thinking behind libraries and information might be useful, so I decided to get involved.
The definition of gamification by Deterding, et. al. that I’m using is:
“the use of game design elements in non-game contexts.”
(From Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. (2011). From game design elements to gamefulness: Defining “Gamification”. Proceedings from MindTrek ’11. Tampere, Finland: ACM.)
I like the simplicity of this definition. You have something that isn’t gaming, and you take something inspired by game design and apply it. In talking with Sebastian at the recent Games + Learning + Society 8.0 conference, he said that he is now thinking about moving beyond the ideas of specific elements and considering about the whole system can improved through gameful design. His concern is that swapping out one element with a game design element isn’t enough; my thought is that both concepts are useful, where gamification is the process of working on specific elements, and the development of the overall system is gameful design.
Gamification isn’t New
While the term “Gamification” is relatively new, the concept has been around for a long time:
- Frequent flyer and shopper programs give you points and rewards for being a loyal customer. Remember S&H Green Stamps? (you can still cash these in!)
- Libraries have had summer reading programs for decades where participants tracked the number of books read and got rewards for reading.
- Even the classroom grading system is a form of gamification! If you think of the grade levels as Badges, and the system being to take the concept of learning and turning it into an arbitrary point system, when then becomes letters, which is then a reward system for learning. For some time, critics of our grade-based system, such as Alfie Kohn, have argued that these systems hamper intrinsic interest in learning. Have we ruined a desire for informal learning through formal education?
BLAP for Gamification
At the heart of gamification are game design elements. Many current gamification systems focus on four things: Points, Levels, Achievments, and Badges. I have crafted the acronym BLAP to use for this type of gamification.
Here is how BLAP Gamification works:
As the user engages in the non-gaming activity, he or she gains Points.
As the user gains enough points, he or she gains Levels as a way of awarding the earning of points and encouraging the collection of more points. Some players are driven by the status of being a higher level. Players are ranked using Leaderboards.
When certain conditions are met, the user is awarded Achievements. The user may or may not know what achievements are possible. Some players are driven by the discovery and 100% completion of getting achievements.
By meeting other conditions, which may or may not be based upon points, levels, or achievements, the player is awarded Badges. A key aspect of badges is that they grant a status, and many badging systems are designed for players to display and share their badges. These badges can help people find others who have expertise in an area or find other players who are similar.
One key note here – points, levels, achievements, and badges are tools. Like any tool, each can be used in positive ways or negative ways. In most cases of gamification, BLAP is being used as an external reward to get players to do something. While this can be effective in the short term, there are long-term consequences to focusing behavioral change around external rewards.
But that’s for another post!
Gamification: a new term for an old practice of making a game out of something.
Ding! You’ve Leveled Up! Please see your local librarian for training.
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