Last week, I was in Edinburgh to take part in a panel discussion on gamification, organised by IPA Scotland and Creative Edinburgh. Thanks so much to all involved for the invitation, the conversation and the hospitality. We had a very broad mix of interesting panellists all doing different things and each offering something unique. Being in children’s media with a background in television, I questioned initially just how close I actually am to gamification. But in reality, we use the principals in preschool media all the time and I could of course see that directly when I took some of those principals and applied them to Dino Dog, a digging game for children.
We offer rewards. We often do this as stories unfold but where you’ll see it much more blatantly is in our faux interactive television with our “can you find…?” and “you did it!” and then in apps, patting our audience on the back to keep them going or to nurture that word people love in preschool media: empowerment. Gamification isn’t a million miles away from the James Earl Jones effect, which I have written about here before.
But is it a good thing?
I think it can be a great way to engage children in good media and that is something that can be taken much further in interactive forms such as apps. We can use basic gamification to help children learn to read or count or learn about the world. So yes, it can be a very good thing when used well. But I wonder sometimes about the more long term effects, specifically how we create an expectation for reward or praise for very basic tasks. Isn’t reading its own reward? Isn’t learning to count awesome in itself?
And then what about later in life? There is a little moment of selfishness in my life that stayed with me. It’s not a pretty moment but I’m going to tell you about it right now. I made my first 40 episodes of Fluffy Gardens, my first show. I wrote it and directed and anyone in the business will know the workload that entails. We finally wrapped the series and I thanked each person involved because the show simply would never have been as good without them. It wouldn’t have happened without our producer. There were so many people to thank. And I remember in a quiet moment wondering: who thanks me?
At that point, I had to sit myself down and give myself a stern lecture about this being entirely the wrong question. When you hit a certain point in your career, you become the one who thanks others. And if you’re doing this to be thanked, to seek out that warm sense of validation, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Now at certain points people will come back to you and thank you (parents who can see what you’re giving their kids, for example) but you shouldn’t expect it. You should do it because it’s right and because it’s good and because you can make something that you can give to others.
If you have trained yourself in your life to expect that gamified reward, that achievement unlock sound, that warm thanks, that street parade thrown for you, then two things will happen for sure. One – you will be constantly disappointed in your life. Two – you will give up long before you have a chance to do something truly fantastic.
Life is not a well-structured progression of rewards like Link’s Awakening. And Dora won’t always be around to tell us we did it. Gamification can be a great tool to engage people but let’s just be careful about how much or how strongly we use it.
And now with this post written, I’ll get that completion buzz by crossing ‘write site post’ off my to-do list and then watch obsessively how many people share this post on Twitter or Facebook and feel good or bad depending on those numbers…