Thursday, April 21, 2011

Being "Gameful" Instead of Being "Gamified"

Loyalty at the cost of your enjoyment?
While this isn't really about video games as art per se, I like to include topics that look at how games affect our lives and can affect social change. Lately there's been one in particular; Gamification has created a growing conversation about the off-screen implementations of recent game mechanics that seems to encourage an inevitable change in marketing. At first my curiosity wanted to see gaming ideology seep into areas I thought, at first, to be alien to gaming practices that I'm used to. My research on the interactivity and immersion of games helped me see the merit in "gamifying," and as a prospective instructor, I'm constantly looking for inspiration to make courses that are commonly dreaded more enjoyable for students. However, it is easy to see how gamification can be used for personal gain at the detriment of others; credit cards already had aspects of gamification ideology with progress bars and rewards, and the main issue of economic problems in the US are people spending beyond their means and certain groups of people encouraging this behavior to profit. This worry can easily be defeated by critical thinking and exercising free will, though it seems to turn video games into something of a gimmick to be so pervasive.

I came across Jane McGonigal's talk at the Game Developer's Conference this year about a counter to gamification called being "gameful." Something being gameful encourages qualities and feelings associated with being immersed in a game, such as optimism of your abilities and an intrinsic drive to accomplish a goal. McGonigal draws upon "Positive Psychology," basically what about our psychology can be adjusted to just be a happy, more positive person, even when you're not clinically diagnosed with anything. She argues that the external motivations that gamification provide only Skinner Box-like mentalities when people look to just get rewards, not actually enjoy what they are doing.

What I took away from her talk was how we could implement how games make people feel personally invested in a goal trumps the carrot on a stick method with rewards gamification uses. Seeing how this is true isn't hard to imagine; would you be more involved in taking care of an elderly patient if you were paid or if they were a loved grandparent who still has stories to tell? I see these discussions are quite reflexive; can't being gameful and being gamified be seen in current game mechanics? World of Warcraft keeps people playing by the used of external goals, with achievements and gear, which just gives players something to do until another reward to is be earned elsewhere. However, the game also keeps gamers by providing opportunities to feel self-empowered and participate in social endeavors to accomplish something difficult. Wouldn't be games be more enjoyable if they found a way to always be gameful and provide intrinsic motivation for their players? I think being gameful further uses the unique aspect of games, interactivity, than being gamified, as gamification is an external appendage instead of an integral mechanic the entire game relies on.

Games being more gameful might be a method to foster more empathy and personal investment into games, because as McGonigal puts it, it isn't the game that accomplishes these great feats but empowers the player to step up to the challenge and succeed. With games becoming more personal and political, this idea can be powerful by encouraging players to experience, and care about, stories and goals they wouldn't have previously considered.

Check out her talk here -

I also recommend listening to her TED talk beforehand to better understand her angle -

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