Gamification. You’ve probably come across this rather clunky neologism.
It simply means the application of gaming mechanics to activities normally considered outside its purview.
Basic example: Bullsh*t Bingo. This transfers the gaming mechanics of bingo (i.e. ticking off randomly announced items until you’ve completed your card) to an activity not usually considered play: a work meeting.
Gamification. I don’t like the word much. But I love the idea.
Come, take a peek behind the curtain: us so-called creative types generally create very little. Rather, we make lateral links between stuff that already exists. ‘Recontextualising’ we call it. Tee hee.
So, having spent the past 25 years playing videogames, it would be terribly wasteful not to use some that accumulated experience in my day job. Hence the application of gamification (try saying that when you’re drunk) to several of our recent digital projects.
It works, too. But why? And why now? Here’s my stab at the latter.
Ever seen tiger cubs stalking each other? They’re just playing. But they’re also practising. Back in pre-history, play fulfilled the same function for us. Running, hiding, jumping, wrestling, throwing; these fun activities prepared us for the serious business of surviving.
Play and work were essentially one and the same – it was only context that separated the two.
But, as society evolved, industry developed and skills became more specialised, play and work diverged. To the point at which an unbridgeable social divide formed between the two; and never the twain shall meet (or you’re so fired).
Over the past decade or so, this has rapidly and dramatically reversed as the line between work and play becomes increasingly blurred.
Because in the connected age ‘the idea’ has primacy. It is the competitive edge. This means many job roles are becoming less algorithmic (linear task completion) and more heuristic (lateral problem solving).
And that’s what games have always been about. So, it should be no surprise that people are seeking to exploit their potential to engage interest, stimulate creativity and drive collaboration.
This transition from triviality to respectability has been smoothed by the rise of social media – which has, perhaps unwittingly, familiarised even the most ardent non-gamers with classic gaming mechanics and conventions.
You might not have a clue what it means to grind XP by boss farming in order to ding levels in World of Warcraft.
But if you use Twitter, you probably like the feeling when your follower count goes up – and have informal strategies for making this happen. Social influence measurement tools like Klout and TweetLevel take this gamification a step further. You’re becoming your own online character. Without once playing Dungeons and Dragons. Gosh.
This fast and loose theorising is just a thought experiment. The point is, however much ‘gamification’ may offend my writer’s sensibilities, it’s already a big deal. And it’s only going to get bigger.