**Please use W-A-S-D keys to move through this post, mouse to look around, space bar to jump and left-click to fire. And be sure to check-in and maybe you can become Mayor of this post. (In the picture, they're mechanics, get it? Like game mechanics. You get it right?)** **Update at end of post....
I have a problem with tabs. Seriously. Its an issue. I usually keep about 100 or so of them open at a time. I know. I see myself ending up on some browser-based version of Hoarders. There is a method to my madness here. I collect all these tabs and then start to sort them to see what shakes out - what is common and and what is different - kinda like panning for gold but without the backache.
So it turns out I've been looking a lot of sites and articles about using game dynamics outside the magic circle of games. Now I want to run down the tabs that I have open but I also wanted to say that there is something troubling to me about the use of game mechanics or this trend of gamificiation. I don't know exactly what it is but maybe it smells to me a bit like how "e" was gonna change everything in the learning/training field. Maybe its the idea that what I see is not only the use of game mechanics outside of games but outside of game design as well. That bothers me. Its like watching teenagers drive without the benefit of experience. They can go fast but the potential there for doing serious damage is great as well. Maybe its this leftover bitter taste I have in my mouth from last year's GDC in which it seemed every other presentation was how to 'Monetize User Behavior Through Game Mechanics' or any number of sessions that I remember as being titled 'How to be the Next Farmville in 3 Easy Steps.'
There is a quote by Gary Gygax (and no, I'm not putting a link to his bio or anything. If you're interested in games or game mechanics and you don't know who he is - get thee to Google and hang your head as you do) at the start of one of the essays in Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen's amazing book, The Game Design Reader:
"Knowing the rules of a game is not nearly as simple as committing the relevant passages to memory, because memorization does not bring understanding. It is not only important to know what is written in the rules but also to perceive how the parts of the rules fit together and work in harmony with each other. The latter task is certainly achievable but it is not easy."
Maybe that's it. Its that even if you can separate out certain game mechanics from true games, you still need to know how they all work together to create a compelling user experience. Maybe I'm wrong. But first, to the tabs...
The first tab that I have open is a post from Gabe Zichermann and is entitled "Game Thinking is the Core of Gamification" (damn. looks like I took too long to write this post and I can't find that post any more, well we'll plunge ahead anyway)...sounds like a good start place right? Looks like Gabe has a vested interest in this dynamic (not that that's a bad thing, just is what it is). He also runs the Gamification blog (which looks like it used to be the funware blog), its associated GamificationCo and is producing the Gamification Summit (January 2011, in SFO, brrrrr). I note that Amy Jo Kim (you should watch this video of Amy Jo Kim - one of my favs) is now listed here as a "gamification guru" - I guess that's when you know you've arrived as a new niche - when you have your first gurus. Its also worth noting that Jane McGonigal is also keynoting at the Gamification Summit (you should probably watch this TED video of Jane talking about how Gaming Can Change the World and maybe even take a look at Urgent Evoke or World without Oil) - I think that while Amy Jo Kim may fit into the gamification dynamic, I think that Jane is talking about not severing individual dynamics of games but about stretching the magic circle of a game to cover not only new dynamics but new content material as well.
There is also a TEDBoston presentation from Seth Priebatsch on the "game layer" or game dynamics that can be used in the 'real world.' Things like the Appointment Dynamic, The Influence and Status Dynamic, the Progression dynamic and the Communal Discovery Dynamic. Its a good talk and makes some interesting points.
One tab was a blog post by Alex Manchester - that while I sense was written with good intentions, continues a common problem that I wanted to mention if only in an effort help clear it up. Game Theory - the subject of A Beautiful Mind and a discussion of which Alex includes at the start of his post - really has nothing to do with game design or game mechanics although it very well has something to do with behavioral economics (all of which was pointed out in a comment by Simon Bostock. If you are still interested in game theory though, you can actually take/audit/whatever you call it the course on this from Yale (its actually really good). Speaking of behavioral economics (don't hear that every day do ya?) - there is this very fine presentation (PDF) on the relationship between game mechanics and user behavior from Bunchball Nitro.
Now there is this awesome post by Pascal Rettig (and I say awesome not just because my last name used to be Rettig) about the game mechanics hype cycle. I really wish that we had had more writing like this back in ye olde early days of e-learning. One of the great points that Pascal makes is that these elements really aren't game mechanics but are actually "meta-game mechanics" (which is also what I talk about below wrt Kongregate). His point being (I think) that we need to be careful to maintain the focus of these mechanics on the core behavior we're looking to drive and make sure that those mechanics don't become the entire reason for people to engage with whatever content we're focusing on...badges on foursquare are meta to the reason we "play" - finding other people and the location-based tips...let's keep an eye on the social and not just the media.
Pascal points to a presentation by Sachin Agarwall that argues in part that we should look for "viral mechanics" as opposed to game mechanics. I think this is important if you're out there in the commercial sector trying to build to the next F'ville...but I wonder about its importance inside the enterprise..I think we really want to focus on dynamics that drive engagement with the content and not necessarily getting the content to go viral.
Pascal also points (seriously, read Pascal's post, it's crazy loaded w good thoughts and resources) to "Game Mechanics - The New Black" by Jon Carder. Jon makes a nice point that really frequent flyer programs have been using game mechanics for years. He also argues that some of the most common elements in this category include:
- Countdown timer
Be sure to read his whole post on the topic for greater detail but I think its interesting to watch as people flesh out these dynamics (see earlier mention of Bunchball paper) and along those lines, there is a post by Shane Snow over at Mashable on HOW TO: Use Game Mechanics to Power your Business. I think one of Shane's really important points is to start with your vision and work backwards through Behaviors and then through supporting mechanics.
I guess one of the seminal pieces in this still forming cannon of gamification is Jesse Schell's DICE 2010 talk. Jesse does a great job at describing the "elastic velvet rope" - how WebKinz brought the magical creatures that live inside children's stuffed animals to life and made $12 = $20. One of the important kernels in Jesse's talk is that games like Farmville, Mafia Wars, Club Penguin - are all intruding on our reality - using our real friends and our real money. Imagine linking training to reality - oh shush Mark - now you're just talking crazy.
Now here is where the update comes in. I just spent almost a whole week at DevLearn 2010. In short, if you don't go to DevLearn, you should. Brent Schlenker (the Main Man of the Show), David Holcombe, Heidi Fisk and the rest of the eLearning Guild put on an amazing show. So I did a workshop on social learning and a little Social Learning Camp throughout the conference. The audience was awesome and stayed super-engaged the whole time. As part of that workshop and camp, I talked a lot about one of my fav web sites, Kongregate. If you've known me for longer than 5 minutes, I've probably brought this site up. I want to bring it up here too (shocker).
I think the way Kongregate is architected, offers us a way to think about using game mechanics and a game layer to add some social context to existing content. I think this may be a way for us to get 'feet wet' in terms of gamification without taking a big chomp out of the hype cycle. Go to the site. Click on any game - doesn't matter. Now see where the game is? Imagine your content there. There's a profile w/ an avatar, points for non-game related behavior (think about the dynamics you want to drive in your users/learners), comments, ratings, suggestions for related content and so on. In short, there are a lot of options for us to just take existing content and place it into a social/gaming context. As we do this though, we need to keep Pascal's warning in mind that the layer around the game is a meta-game and maintaining that layer's focus on the behaviors that you wish to reinforce requires serious design thinking.
What I really really hope is that this whole movement isn't born out of a lot of what I saw at last year's GDC - that was endless, repetitive sessions on how to be the next Farmville. Please. I don't care about your farm.
***Double Update Alert: Look at the answers on Quora to the question: Why are so many game developers opposed to gamification?