What is gamification?

I can go back and forth on this one, but I’ll go along with the idea of it being a deliberate exploitation of human nature (play). There are, as this video discusses, plenty of points of view. It’s just 10 minutes and run’s at a fair pace, but does manage to use some in-game footage and overlays to explain how it relates to the real world.


Classroom motivation

Okay, this only works if students actually have or are allowed to use a device, but it doesn’t mean the teacher needs to be using technology in the lesson. I use the Pomodoro Method a fair bit personally. My brain like to have too many tabs open, and it helps me stay focused and motivated on a task — even if it’s boring. I happen to like the 20mins on, 10 mins off routine and in the case of learning with technology in the classroom, I’d also recommend alternating between 20mins using device and 10mins off AS WELL AS 20mins off and 10mins on. I think it allows for better workflows because you can set a ‘peak’ of activity as well as have some really clear deadlines and conclusions.

Pomodorium is a gamification variation with some nifty software that COULD help those students who seem to lack the ability to stay on task or focus. I grant you that if they are given some dull worksheet to complete they won’t begin to love science or geography, but I really think some kids — especially by mid-year in Year 8 are beginning to massively tune-out and simply idle the fifty minutes away.


Games are not classroom toys.

This post is intended to highlight how ‘trends’ in social media CAN create more problems than they solve. In the rush to include popular culture in the classroom, some educators now see games — especially video games as something to port into their so called ‘GBL’ classrooms. They assume that because games are ‘fun’ and that game scholars have shown players learn — bingo — add it to the pop-bazinga-bullshit bouncing around Chitter. Ideally there could be 7 steps, a diagram or a template to slap on top of content.

If games can be brought into school, kids could …. If that is true, then firstly, describe the archetypes of this pedagogy and in what context it might be true. Oh crap, gamification just got harder didn’t it … don’t worry, play splashy fish and just say they are learning. There are some very serious problems emerging from the general idea that everything can be done simply — and that all the answers are online. So far that hasn’t been true for anything else, so why with the most complex media in society?

What they want to know has to fit with what they want to believe, based on what they already know. For example which games are the most fun, and the ones kids learn from the most. They want to believe games short-cut social and cultural disengagement as well as increase academic understanding. A better social inclusion program and assessment plan could also do that too. But these are also things that schools struggle to re-position in society radically different to even ten years ago.

Why is a classroom a place to start toying with complex media is a serious social concern. Why not do it though research? Why does it have to be done ‘live’ with kids (who get no say and may well suffer as a result) — and why conduct it via Chitter?

Games are not made from things which will be ported into classrooms to make kids happier, more engaged or more interested in what the teacher has to say. This won’t of course stop teachers dragging games into classrooms and not only doing a really bad job of using games — but waste valuable time tinkering with things they don’t understand when they could focus on things that are needed.

You can’t run today’s game-culture on your busted platform or find the answers on chitter.

Big data and parent panic

Don’t pay too much attention to big data claims because the truth is, if you draw enough circles you can prove pretty much anything. In 2008, the much quoted PEW Internet research into teens, games and (strangely fuzzy) civics in American life proclaimed 97% of all American teens play video games. The web lit up, as the big-number was scribed onto corporate websites such as the Entertainment Software Association  and even academic blogs as well known media, game and culture celebrities welcomed a new era – one which enabled the now infamous “gamification” industry. 2008  saw the first documented use of the term gameification  a blog post by Bret Terrill. A round of applause for all concerned, as since then this single report was sufficient to catapult several now high profile writers and public figures into a new ecosphere which is literally worth billions of dollars. I’m writing this post today to review this seminal research and let you consider the depths and agenda of the gamification foundations.

Gartner (who added gamification to the hype cycle in 2011) says it will fall in a pile by 2014, unable to return revenue or show significant productivity increases across industries. The reason for this they say is bad design and in-ability of senior leaders to understand the underlying principle of gamification and how to apply it within the IT organization. This seems strangely familiar from my own efforts to introduce an ethnographic, exploration of an imaginative use of Minecraft into primary school in the same time period. It almost didn’t matter what theoretical basis that came from, it wasn’t labelled “edu” so was never going to understood to a point it could compete with simplistic purchasing of tablets and “edu” apps. So why then, if 97% of teens were playing video games at the very moment ‘gamification’ appeared on the corporate landscape are games still considered a counter-narrative to mainstream educational methods and practice?

What is interesting about looking back at this research is that 95% of the games reported in the top 10 have vanished from view, ported to mobile phones or updated in series. To some, it would suggests that games have a short-life-span and/or that gamers have a short attention-span. This would seem common-sense. Like television, the writers and producers need to keep the story moving if the audience is to keep watching. Amazingly, the number one game they found wasn’t The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) which is widely considered by gamers to be the number on game ever, nor was it Mass Effect 2 or Half-Life 2 or any of the MMOs which academics such as Yee proposed are the apex of high-game culture such as Eve Online or Warcraft. Nope, it was Guitar Hero. And why not. It’s safe, conservative and won’t draw any attention. Seriously? If your parents (who pay little attention to your gaming) ask what you’re playing – say Guitar Hero. My point here is that kids might not tell you want they are playing for plenty of reasons.

Interestingly, Tetris made in the top ten without comment by the researchers. How could they not comment about TETRIS, released in 1984 on PC and Commodore 64. This suggests to me, that those being interviewed didn’t understand the question – I would put forward that Tetris made it simply because the adult answering the phone in the house was more likely to remember TETRIS that Ocarina of Time or any other game.

Really great games, like great books, movies, music and television have an ongoing audience, but they also require people to know of them (in culture) in order to respond with more than a guess or deep memory grab. In the case of Tetris, I suggest it’s there simply because it is a cornerstone of popular cultural knowledge towards video games and invalidates the method.

In terms of sales, in 2008 this was the top 10 list (on consoles) according to Kotaku which most gamers believe to be closer to reality than say the NYT.

01. Wii Play (Wii) – 5,280,000
02. Mario Kart Wii (Wii) – 5,000,000
03. Wii Fit (Wii) – 4,530,000
04. Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii) – 4,170,000
05. Grand Theft Auto IV (Xbox 360) – 3,290,000
06. Call of Duty: World at War (Xbox 360) – 2,750,000
07. Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360) – 2,310,000
08. Grand Theft Auto IV (PS3) – 1,890,000
09. Madden NFL 09 (XBox 360) – 1,870,000
10. Mario Kart DS (DS) – 1,650,000

Having said that, scroll down to the comments and you’ll see plenty of in-culture controversy of both the list and the platforms. You see, even gamers (which make up big numbers) don’t agree on their own big numbers and they actually play games.

This disconnect between sales figures, in-game knowledge and research methods points to the need for researchers to abandon the ‘broad brush’ approach. We can’t discuss film as though all films are the same, or can be represented with the same characteristics, so why do it with games?

To my mind, researcher interested in young people’s use of new media has to include games alongside other media which combine to cause parent anxiety in equal measure to media which might promote learning, creativity or improved civic behaviour. Right now, that list would clearly include Minecraft, League of Legends, Skylanders, Call of Duty and Angry Birds. Grand Theft Auto has become the poster-child of ‘violence’ and Warcraft is the ugly addicted cousin somewhat ‘uncool’ to write about in objective journalism right now. We can’t separate these games from popular culture however, which has been a district trend in the past – resulting in sensational ‘big data’ headlines such as 97% of teens are gamers (read: rebels without a clue).

I believe the next trend in mainstream journalism with further raise media-panic about geo-location devices, sharing childrens data and of course consoles which are sending live data feeds to the NSA and Russian Mafia. For many kids, society is disconnected from their reality, and games are hardly responsible for, or an anti-dote to political and economic greed which is disenfranchising young people from the ‘norms’ of neo-conversative politic and billionaire greed. Games, won’t save the world – nor is reality broken. In fact if you’re made it on TED, written a best seller and regularly appearing at red carpet events, you’ve mostly managed to create your own, rather sumptuous reality I guess. The need for introducing debutant media-studies courses into a robust, contemporary high school curriculum just isn’t as sexy as big numbers or big ideas worth schlocking. There’s a problem with media, game, culture and educational researchers who reach for the sensationalist headline over the ongoing argument that media-studies is needed in school- age education and has been for years. But how do you design a curriculum for media-studies that effectively excludes popular cultural media-texts which are too complex for exams? – Simply, you just ignore it and use big data to prove whatever your are doing is correct. Even better, fund groups who appear on the surface to represent you’re progressive intent. It’s a scene from Yes Minister really.

In the design of the PEW research, it is unclear what is meant by ‘video-games’. This also true of media reports about video-games (in society) as cultural literature. The most critical flaw for me in the design is that it omitted to consider the style of parenting in the household that might allow ‘video-games’ in the first place. Without have some underpinning familie profile to draw upon, the term family is too simplistic – does it relate to single parents, same-sex couples or the modernist nuclear family? For research, these problems are complex and so most media-studies is looking for rich data, subjectivity and the user voice, rather than “the audience”.

Big data research (esp, quantitative) is also fleeting it seems. In 2013, PEW says 15% of Americans don’t use the Internet at all. I find that bizarre given almost all games in the top 10 mobile, console and computer sales chart all use the Internet, and presumably, some of the 97% of gamers have now abandoned their games and the internet. This analysis conflicts with numerous ‘industry’ reports which suggests most people are not simply online, but using two or three devices at the same time!

There’s also a problem with the method of data collection. In 2008 it was on the cusp of ‘really?’ and now its most definitely in ‘quaint’. Just over 1000 households, randomly sampled were given a telephone call and over the phone interview. From this, the method claimed to be representative of American life and gaming. In Australia, as around the world, households have been abandoning fixed line telephones for years in favour of mobile. This 2008 method today would not capture the American, UK or Australian life. Firstly most people who switched, switched to smart-phones (which play games) and secondly any telephone random sample would miss a significant proportion of families which are media-rich.

Big data claims are synonymous with the technological and economic determinism being touted as ‘online culture’. From hook-up culture to gaming culture, various commercial, political, economic, religious and academic interests find great value in flinging big data at us to push us in one direction or another – and most of their assertions are based on simplistic binary oppositions such as good parents and bad parents, safe internet and dangerous internet. It’s a 24/7 parade of what James Gee calls “dangerous experts”.

On the 5th of November, it might be worth pointing out that millions of people are under the gaze of technological surveillance and that researches with un-clear agendas don’t need to call the public for their opinion. They can gather plenty of data from the hyper-connected landscape or simply buy it from technology giants. Today would be as good a day as any to buy yourself a VPN subscription, to learn how to tunnel your mobile or use an anonymous browser. It would also be a good day to decide – the next time I hear an sensational claim about the Internet though objective journalism – I will ask for the data and think critically about why I am being told this here and now.

Angry Birds is about inner peace – no really.

I take great issue with this term. First, despite the depth of research available about video-games, much of it focuses on what games are, rather than what you can actually do with them.

Second, there has always been media interest in games, however now its often over-connected to negative effects of gaming (which gamification-people avoid), yet now is the new ‘cool’ whereby if you ‘gamify’ life, people will be more responsive – and happy.

Third, there’s a degree of emperor’s clothes and a great way to appear clever in front of others in the tradition of bar-stool-expert-ism. The rule is – if you Tweet it – Build it. The benefits of this Gamification Revolution in their view is that it can extended to include everything including the workplace, school, home, retail and even mental illness. It’s your round.

There are plenty of equally irritating terms that hang out with gamification such as: Mindshare; The New Economy; Paradigm Shift; Convergence-Culture; Brick and Mortar, Sync-up, The [anything] Revolution; Socialize etc., most of which even hipsters would run from. How about they include – Reality is the worst game ever.

Gamification is about shipping product. Discover the new machines such as Badgeville, Big Door, Bunchball, iActionable (most stupid of all stupid names) except for the ROFL – Reputely.

Games are not now media-interesting because of human evolution or change in social-culture – it’s because Banner Ads, Radio, Print and Television didn’t work to well after Jobs ambushed society with is red-cordial first. Gamification is about user acquisition and retention – the same game it’s always been. We stopped listening, so they are paradigm shifting on a wave of media with a vested interest in convincing you to check it — after the ad break — this has almost nothing to do with the complexity of the human interest, motivation and interest in games – any more than you could argue, because we like TV, we’re willing to watch Ads in every moment in our spare time, But that’s what you’re getting.

Gamification is the worst combination of game-rules, game-play and game-worlds. It makes money – go you – but it doesn’t’ make the kind o meaning that will help a kid deal with cyberbulling or the relentless office troll.

What makes any “place” more productive is when it has leadership, creativity and culture that gives people in the “place” opportunities to lead and explore their take on what might improve their productivity and feeling of satisfaction. Games are a place, not a thing – they are somewhere to go where you immerse yourself in a story or create one.

However, despite years of reports clearly showing what makes the work “place” productive, Mental Heath Australia has consistently also reported that workplace bullying costs the workplace tens of billions of dollars a year in lost productivity.

In face according to research by Griffith University, 85% of people thought they had suffered, or seen a colleague suffer bullying at work. I am really unconvinced that gamifiying the workplace will somehow address this – and other well documented long-term issues that people often face on a daily basis.

If anything, people find some escape in games on their computer or mobile phone, tending to opt for ‘snack’ gaming which some research is suggesting is little more than an avoidance strategy to steer clear of situations and people that do not support a harmonious life. We feel safer and more peaceful when we snack-game to avoid life, not because it’s awesum fun.

Imagine that – Angry Birds is actually about finding inner peace (who’s buying) – maybe not but but it allows millions to escape the moment everyday. So why not figure out what’s wrong the moment.

Gamifying (which is the ‘cool’ spelling) a bad “place” won’t make it a good place, so I figure you’re a Noob until you’ve made a good place, somewhere people want to be – and see if people come. And, actually do it with your time and money – if you’re right, you have nothing to lose and everything to win.

That gets my attention … nothing else.