This Is Not An Article About Gamification
A lot has been said lately about gamification and how it can transform the content that publishers produce into something other. For the unacquainted, gamification is generally accepted as the application of game mechanics to non-game scenarios with the end goal of engaging users and spurring them to greater action. A common example is how LinkedIn uses an animated graphic to encourage users to complete their profiles.
Increasingly, gamification is big money: Fortune 500 companies see it as a powerful -- and frankly, manipulative -- marketing tool. For their part, publishers hope to harness gamification to make content more interactive, more engaging, and to urge action, like clicking through an ad or sharing more articles.
Gamification is a buzzword, being tossed at conferences and in marketing and technology circles like "social media" was a half-decade ago. And like any buzzword, I'm skeptical whether we really understand what we're talking about.
That's not to say I doubt gamification is a real thing and potentially useful for publishers. However, the title of this article is derived from the fact that while I was investigating what gamification is, I came to understand that publishers can use games in a manner that goes beyond simply gamifying content. Let me explain.
During my research, I was fortunate enough to encounter the work of Eric Gordon, executive director of the Engagement Game Lab (EGL) at Emerson College. The focus of the EGL is to research and design games that foster civic engagement, working with government and nonprofits to help people to interact with institutions in a more meaningful way. "We actually resist the term gamification because we want to err on the side of creating playful experiences, as opposed to simply mechanically gamifying existing processes," says Gordon.
To explain the distinction, Gordon says that where gamification applies game mechanics to otherwise mundane activities to elicit more behavior, his lab focuses on creating games that reframe activities as playful so as to enable discovery and exploration. Gordon uses the term, "gameful design" as an alternative to gamification. "This suggests a focus on games as systems of play rather than just disconnected mechanics that motivate the desired behavior," says Gordon. "We don't want to manipulate people into taking action, we actually want to create a context for people to explore and discover and to make meaning. It's a different kind of engagement that we're looking for."
Related story: Gamification: Publishing’s Most Important Challenge
Denis Wilson was previously content director for Target Marketing, Publishing Executive, and Book Business, as well as the FUSE Media and BRAND United summits. In this role, he analyzed and reported on the fundamental changes affecting the media and marketing industries and aimed to serve content-driven businesses with practical and strategic insight. As a writer, Denis’ work has been published by Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Fortune, and The New York Times.