At the Casual Connect conference in Seattle last week, a one-day track was dedicated to content about gamification. As a 15-year marketing professional who spent six years in the games industry, I was looking forward to so much focus being given to ideas about which I’m personally passionate: the power of games to engage, and the opportunities for businesses of all kinds to leverage that engagement to create deeper relationships with and better experiences for their customers. Unfortunately, much of the coverage of gamification was extremely critical. I was left asking myself, ‘Why is creating engagement, making rote experiences pleasurable and rewarding, and motivating personal and societal change seen as a bad thing?’ I’m still waiting on an answer.
The most vocal critic of gamification was Robert Tercek, who moderated panels and conducted a lecture called, “Beyond Play: Gaming in the Connected Age.” In this lecture, Tercek divided those who employ gamification techniques into two categories: Realists and Idealists, with Realists essentially defined as capitalists who use gamification to exploit users and manipulate them into desired behaviors, and Idealists summarized as out-of-touch do-gooders who are under the illusion that games can change the world. Expanding on the hyperbole, Tercek also referred to these categories as Cynics vs. Zealots, or Stripminers vs. Evangelists.
As I was listening to Mr. Tercek—who is without a doubt an experienced and gifted media visionary—deride the community in which I work, I couldn’t help thinking about an experience I had recently at a Rock Health event in San Francisco. At this event, I met a woman whose son has Type I Diabetes, and has spent most of his life feeling the isolation and shame that often comes with having a serious disease—especially one that frequently necessitates administering blood testing and insulin injections in public. But instead of letting it get him down, this young man decided to apply his technical skills to developing a positive and rewarding experience around his testing and tracking via an online application. He gamifiied his blood glucose levels. He turned the management of a difficult reality of his life into a positive experience, and was on the road to sharing what he built with the world.
If we are to apply the Stripminers vs. Evangelists monikers, in which category would this scenario fall? Is there, perhaps, a middle ground of individuals, organizations, and businesses who just think that taking something tedious, ordinary, or just plain necessary and making it more fun is not only okay, but highly beneficial? I believe there is. Every day, I have the privilege of seeing gamification in action, creating positive change in the lives of individuals, and in the relationships of companies with their consumers and employees. And I think it’s a very, very good thing.
This is not to say there isn’t always room for healthy debate. Any powerful idea—and the science behind what makes games and gamification work is indeed powerful—has the risk of being misapplied or misinterpreted. I was pleased that the conversation at Casual Connect was balanced by presentations from companies such as Big Door and Bunchball, both of whom will readily discuss how and when to responsibly and effectively apply gamification. Also encouraging was the amount of audience interest in applying gamification to education, health, and the enterprise. And above all, I’m glad that gamification was given so much attention—critical and positive. Gamification is here, and here to stay, so let the conversations continue!
Jessie Rogers is in charge of operations and marketing at Gamification Co.
Gamification Co will be hosting it’s second Gamification Summit in New York on September 15-16. Join keynotes from Gilt Groupe CEO Alexandra Wilkis Wilson and 42 Entertainment’s founder, Susan Bonds, to learn how the new science of engagement is rewriting the rules of product design. For Gamification Blog readers, use discount code GCOBLOG for 25% off at http://gsummit.com/register. We look forward to seeing you there!