Gamification makes about as much sense as chocolate-dipped broccoli

gamification chocolate-dipped broccoliGamification “makes about as much sense as chocolate-dipped broccoli”. Education professor Amy Bruckman, coined this analogy in a 1999 paper on game software design:

“Most attempts at making software both educational and fun end up being neither. Fun is often treated like a sugar coating to be added to an educational core. Which makes about as much sense as chocolate-dipped broccoli. The problem is that too many game designers are using long-outmoded models of what it means to be “educational”.

Can educational be fun? Amy Bruckman

Game designer and author Ian Bogost makes the same point, somewhat more forcefully:

“…gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway.

Bullshitters are many things, but they are not stupid. The rhetorical power of the word “gamification” is enormous, and it does precisely what the bullshitters want: it takes games—a mysterious, magical, powerful medium that has captured the attention of millions of people—and it makes them accessible in the context of contemporary business.”
—Ian Bogost, Gamification is Bullshit (2011)

So what is gamification?

Merriam-Webster defines gamification as “the process of adding games or gamelike elements to something (such as a task) so as to encourage participation“. Nick Pelling, a British computer programmer and inventor, apparently coined the word around 2002.

The concept derives from loyalty reward systems, first developed over two hundred years ago, which have morphed through multiple incarnations (anyone remember S&H Green Stamps?) into today’s frequent flier miles and retailer brand loyalty cards.

So gamification adds the potential reward of interaction with others to the material rewards offered by loyalty reward systems.

Is there a case for using gamification in events?

Having fun, playing, and playing games are incredibly important human activities. My late friend Bernie DeKoven was an eloquent, passionate, and thoughtful writer and practitioner of these basic human pursuits. I miss him. (Here’s the story of how Bernie shattered my life-long perspective of chess.)

Proponents of using gamification in events claim that introducing fun and games into meetings must be a Good Thing. What could be wrong with making your meeting more fun?

Bernie DeKoven on gamification

So, here’s what Bernie said in a 2013 interview in Wired (emphasis added):

“I’m not convinced that efforts to make work fun are destined for success. I think the same thing about efforts to make learning fun, or writing fun, or just about anything else that we want to make fun fun.

Because, now that you ask, most human endeavors are already fun. Because the thing that keeps the best of us as good as we are is the fun we find in doing what we do, whether the thing we are doing is building a house or a game or a community, making plans or music or medicines, fixing the plumbing or a computer network or a school system, writing poems or proposals. Engineers, mathematicians, surgeons, dancers, architects, so many of the truly accomplished many readily confess to how much fun they are having doing whatever it is that they do. Gamification? They don’t need no stinkin’ gamification. They don’t need to keep score, to get trophies. What they need is the opportunity to do the work they do best.”
Bernie DeKoven: Designing Deep Fun Into Games & Other Life Necessities

I agree with Bernie. Many companies offer gamification products and services to slot into an event. (Googling “event gamification” returns about five million hits.) Supposedly, the achievements, badges, leader boards, and payments (real or virtual) of gamification improve the meeting experience, or its effectiveness in some way. But the case studies companies provide (such as these or these) offer no hard evidence that event gamification provides any tangible benefit compared to using meeting designs that meet participants’ wants and needs.

Event gamification — chocolate-dipped broccoli

Justifying paying (it ain’t free) for gamification at a meeting by claiming it links fun and relevant learning is bogus. I’m all for participants having fun, but meeting professionals already know how to create fun experiences at events — we’ve been doing this for a long, long, time.

So don’t buy the claims of gamification vendors, and assign chocolate-dipped broccoli to its proper function…an April Fool’s post.

Are five million Google links wrong? Do you think that event gamification is not chocolate-dipped broccoli? Your thoughts are welcome in the comments below!

Image attribution: from an April Fool’s post on Make It And Love It

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