Dr Richard A. Bartle, Senior Lecturer and Visiting Professor of Computer Game Design at the University of Essex, UK is often quoted by, well pretty much anyone involved with gamification... And I'm just about to disagree with him. I just read Will Gamification be Ubiquitous in 5 Years? on Gametuned, and although I believe Dr. Bartle makes a few good points, he's missing some important new developments. Either that, or his and my definition of gamification just don't agree.
In the slides for his recent talk, Dr. Bartle seems to focus on the type of gamification that is often used by marketing departments to bribe people into behaviour they like to see (buying things or free advertising). This sort of gamification is not made by game designers and is driven mostly by extrinsic rewards. He explains quite correctly why this sort of gamification does not work in
the long run. But he also mentions that game design used to employ these principles and abandoned them in favour of intrinsic rewards and more fun. I expect gamification will follow the same path as the games did. So indeed, crude pointsification will probably die out, but true gamification will still be around in five years time, and longer.
Bartle describes a shift in the meaning of gamification from turning something not a game into a game, to turning a game into something not a game. He states that gamifiers "readily acknowledge that their content isn't compelling. It's precisely why they're gamifying it". He suggests that to gamify is to attempt to make something that is intrinsically boring, extrinsically fun. Which doesn't work, because fun is intrinsic.
I see a shift in the meaning of gamification from turning something not a game into a game, to returning the game to something that was turned into not a game.
A lot of human activities really should be fun - which I use as a short-hand to mean: intrinsically rewarding, compelling, interesting, challenging,... - but somehow aren't fun any more. Like work, or education. Work and education are superbly rewarding activities, and yet somehow all the 'fun' has been leached out of them. According to Jane McGonigal, that's exactly why we play games: to fulfil real human needs for productivity and meaning. I think it might have something to do with Marx's concept of alienation. Somehow modern life has added layers of boredom, lack of agency, and pointlessness to several intrinsically rewarding things, and I hope to see gamification ultimately reverse that trend.
A game is defined by rules (the goal or point of the game and how to achieve it), voluntary obstacles, and feedback. It also has several interesting aspects such as fun failure and urgent optimism. Learning is like this too. But currently, education isn't. Neither is work. Or parenting. ExtraCredits, for Escapist, has an excellent talk on how gamification can save education. Jane McGonigal encourages game developers to develop ways of turning the productivity and happiness of gamers towards the greater good. And humbly, I'm trying to think of a way to apply game principles to parenting. None of these projects have the characteristics that Bartle describes for gamification, but they do have the reward structure he describes in games:
I don't see gamification disappearing in five years, as Bartle suggests. Perhaps superficial and marketing-oriented pointification will soon be a thing of the past, but gamification is a thing of the future. Gamification creates alternate realities that add a game layer on top of the layers of boredom and alienation that have somehow accrued on even the most intrinsically rewarding activities. I think it is probably ill-advised to try to remove those layers because they are intricately involved with vast cultural and scientific improvements; we don't want a 'return to the Middle Ages'. However, gamification can return us to a happier and more fulfilling life by allowing us to rediscover and make explicit the intrinsic fun in the things we do.