By Dennis Scimeca
I thought I knew what gamification was before I sat down to hear the "Great Gamification Debate" panel at GDC this week. Jesse Schell of Schell Games summed it up nicely: “Taking things which aren’t games and making them feel more like games.” It’s a technique that can be applied to just about anything to get human beings interested in the activity by making it, well, a game.
Ian Bogost from The Georgia Institute of Technology preferred to define the term as “The easiest way to talk to marketers about video games,” which drew a hearty round of applause from the audience. And so the stage was set for a spirited back and forth about whether gamification has any value, or is merely a high concept pitch for marketing departments.
This debate reignites what was started at DICE earlier this year in the "Gameplay vs. Gamification" talk with our own Adam Sessler, Jesse Schell, and Brian Reynolds. Read on to see where things went this time.
Jane McGonigal of Digital Chocolate thought that gamification proponents were making a valuable effort to take the principles of gaming and put them to good use in real life, but was afraid lousy gamification projects could turn people off to the idea, citing the $50 million English gamification initiative called “Spots versus Stripes.” An attempt to get the British people excited about the 2012 Olympics, the players could choose a side and then do things like buy special chocolates to support their team. People had no reason to specifically pick spots or stripes, however, and so the players are always split 50/50 between the two teams.
Ian Bogost doesn’t even like the word gamification, apparently. “Words really do matter. The frames we build around them are not merely conveniences,” he said. “When we talk about climate change, we’re making political and ethical statements. ‘Gamification’ is easy. You can strap it on.” Yet Bogost noted that the phrase “serious games,” another term for the sorts of initiatives that some gamification efforts pursue, was never one that people wanted to use.
Jesse Schell quipped “Words are crap, we should all shut up and make stuff,” and was met with another round of applause.
There are certainly potential, positive uses for turning serious activities into games, but the idea probably needs to solidify into best practices and solid definitions before we get there. There will be plenty more fascinating panels throughout the week, so be sure to stay tuned to G4tv.com for all of the latest from GDC 2011.