Theories behind Meaningful Gamification
Back in July, I wrote a post about some of the concerns with reward-based BLAP gamification. The tl-dr of that post was that rewards used in a controlling manner undermine internal motivation, and thus applications of gamification to create long-term change can do more harm than good in the long term.
One of my current areas of focus is on Meaningful Gamification, which is focused on preserving internal motivation by avoiding rewards, and instead, helping the player to find a personal connection with the non-game setting. It’s not always needed – if the user starts with no internal motivation for the non-game setting, then there is no internal motivation to preserve. If the goal is a short-term engagement, then rewards can work for that (although, as Alfie Kohn explores in his book, Punished by Rewards, offering rewards typically decreases the quality of the engagement.) If, however, the goal is to preserve and even increase someone’s internal motivation for a non-game task, rewards are to be avoided.
Instead of focusing on rewards, the goal of Meaningful Gamification is to focus on the user, and helping that user find a meaningful connection to the real-world setting. There are several theories that support this concept, above and beyond the Self-Determination Theory and Organismic Integration Theory presented in my previous post:
Situational Relevance (Schamber): First, in order to be meaningful, something has to be relevant. Decades of research on relevancy in LIS has led us to realize that there is no way to know what will be relevant for a specific user, and therefore, we need to provide a variety of gamification elements to raise the chance that each user will find something of value.
Universal Design for Learning (Rose & Myer): UDL is a theory from education that explores the importance of creating different types of content and providing learners with different ways to explore and demonstrate mastery of that content. The model is focused on providing a variety of choices for the What (which aspects of the non-game systems are gamified), the How (how are gamification elements used for each selected aspect ), and the Why (how do users connect these selected aspects via game elements to their own interests and background). Trying to create all of these different options, however, can be challenging.
Player-Generated Content(Djaouti et. al): Rather than try to develop options for each user, another strategy is to allow the users to create their own gamification goals or systems. The designers can create a larger-scale system and boundaries, and then allow users to explore and create their own pathways. Players can then share these pathways with other players, which provides a social connection between players with similar interests.
User-Centered Design (Norman): In order to create this system, every design decision needs to be focused on helping the player to find and develop meaningful connections. Many current gamification systems are organization-centered, where players are being manipulated to benefit the organization. Some current gamification-systems are mechanism-centered, where the creators have decided to focus on some “cool” mechanism or technology instead of choosing what is best for the player. Players that are inspired will end up engaging more deeply with the non-game setting, and this long-term connection is how the organization can be rewarded.
Putting these things together, meaningful gamfication systems are designed to help players find personal connections to a non-game setting. To be successful, the systems must offer a variety of game elements and different ways that players can connect their own interests to different aspects of the non-game setting. Players can create their own pathways through the system, and the game design elements selected for the system need to benefit the player instead of the organization.
Much more detail about these theories (and full citations) can be found in a paper and talk I put together called “A User-Centered Theoretical Framework for Meaningful Gamification“.
But just how does one create Meaningful Gamification?
That will be the subject of my next post!
Gamification is made more meaningful by putting the needs of the user ahead of the wants of the organization.
Ding! You’ve Leveled Up! Please see your local librarian for training. (Or just enjoy learning something new.)