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The Gamification of Children’s Books Can Compete with Video Games

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gamification of children's books

The Gamification of Children’s books are backed by Disney, Penguin and More

As the world evolves into a massively digital age, the publishers producing print media need to adapt in order to stay relevant. While it might be true that some children will always vehemently oppose the very nature of books, it doesn’t mean that new techniques and gamification could assist in making the classic book more engaging for others.

Considering the Oxford University Press’ recent gamification efforts and Pearson’s desire to be like Electronic Arts, many of the major players are looking at the gamification of children’s books to make them more engaging in the digital age. A recent discussion by a Digital Book World panel had a deeper look into this trend and has some advice for those thinking about using gamification for children’s books.

To start, there are three types of gamification that can be added into a children’s book:

  1. The addition of simple games into the books themselves, like tic-tac-toe
  2. Gamification elements that display and reward progress through the books, like progress bars and badges
  3. A hybrid of the top two that challenges players to play a game in order to progress through a book.

Number 3 is the kind of engagement strategy you want to implement into your book for maximum effectiveness. Creatively adding games to match the story’s plot points is the optimum way of enhancing narrative flow. For example, if your story’s main character is faced with a mountain to climb, then why not have the player actually interactively climb that mountain? However, the same can be said for thoughtlessly adding games that do not really fit into the context of the story. Those then become actual obstacles for your reader. 

If you think about it, all video games either have a game mechanics built around narrative or narrative built around game mechanics. Adding game mechanics to your children’s novel is effectively a similar process to creating a videogame, especially now that so many books are being consumed on touch-devices where so many games are already being played.

Panelist Kate Wilson, managing director of Nosy Crow in the U.K, stated that books are “directly competing with media and other games. We do not want reading to be the most boring thing a child can do on a phone or a tablet,”

Books in this digital medium also have the added benefit of enabling physical reader control over the device, allowing the reader to interact with multiple content sources in harmony.  Lyle Underkoffler, VP for digital media at Disney Publishing Worldwide, claims that e-books with this multiple content source interaction “double or triples” the book’s “stickiness,” compared to the standard e-book. 

The panel also does make the point that one of the primary challenges for the gamification of children’s novels is adapting older works to include new digital elements. This is particularly difficult for the parents buying certain classics who might be appalled that the classic stories they’ve grown up with have been bastardized by badges. 

Nevertheless, an effective gamified children’s book is best done if planned for from the very beginning, rather than retroactively.  Underkoffler makes the point clear that the main purpose of these new game elements is to enhance storytelling and learning:

“We’ve published more than 50 apps over a variety of platforms, and what we found is that engagement is key,” he said. “And engagement is best achieved by great stories matched with great activities.”

In short, gamifying e-books will be best if the mechanics added enhance the overall narrative of the book, if it can interact with other sources of content on the same device, and if its planned for from the very beginning.

I absolutely adored Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth as a child and I think I would welcome addition of fanciful, whimsical interactive elements on a tablet to justify revisiting it one more time (although honestly, I don’t really need that justifcation).

via Publishers Weekly - image by courosa

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