‘Gamification.’ The word buzzes around corporate heads like magical fireflies; and for others, like fruit flies. Is it or is it not a waste of corporate time and dollars to try and leverage individuals’ game-playing mentality and apply this potentially ‘unlimited battery’ of gusto to the workplace? The question is a contentious one and deserves a closer look.
Ian Bogost, an interactive computing professor at Georgia Institute of Technology poignantly states, “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.” Like any new trend, it is easy to get excited and try to immediately reduce the process to some shallow cookie-cutter model turning the whole thing into a gimmicky fad. At that point it wouldn’t look too different than a pyramid scheme. Maybe there’s a more intrinsic conflict at work.
Of all the reasons a person sits down to watch a movie or play a video game, one of the top reasons—if not #1 on my list—is escapism. I am setting reality aside for a moment—or umpteen hours—in order to give myself a break? Get a laugh in? Find out if King Joffrey gets his turn? Whatever it is, it is not to think about work or anything that has to do with work. I can share Bogost’s concern in that if we invest in something that turns out to be a gimmick people—your employees—will become that much more repulsed by it. A ‘gamified’ activity would then be like a kid trying too hard to be cool and ending up worse off socially. That said, maybe there’s still more to it than just adding a point system to incentivize activities.
It isn’t wrong to dream about how to leverage countless hours of mental focus and apply this principle of flow to provide work-world solutions. Kevin Werbach, Wharton professor of legal studies and co-writer of For the Win would represent the trend by saying that gamification builds on “what we know about psychology from management, marketing and other disciplines, with some added concepts from game design.” Like any new trend, it is easy to get excited and boil down the terms in a way that makes the process shallow. He goes on to state further that gamification can be “oversold or abused. It needs to be done thoughtfully to have a good chance of success. At the end of the day, it’s essentially a richer palette of techniques to motivate people.” Maybe here is another clue to taming this coveted beast: find out what kind of games your employees play and what is the significance of games in their lives?
This is 100% worth corporate time and investigation in my opinion. I dedicated my life to the Jesuits—the largest internationally centralized Catholic order—in large part due to, what I would describe as, a successful and healthy transference of the best of what role-playing and high-precision games brought out in me: the sense of a greater mission and the reality that you are tiny, but you can learn and do almost anything. Further, you can’t do it alone, and each individual has something astonishingly unique to offer.
Bogost, I. (2011, August 11). Gamification is bullshit. Blog. Retrieved from http://bogost.com/writing/blog/gamification_is_bullshit/.
Burke, B. (2014, April 10). How gamification motivates the masses. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/gartnergroup/2014/04/10/how-gamification-motivates-the-masses/.
Gamification as compiled in Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/category/gamification/.
Ghosain, M. (2013, September 30). Why do we place so much value on entertainment and escapism? OneWithNow. Retrieved from http://onewithnow.com/escape/.
Knowledge @Wharton. (2014, February 11). Gamification: powering up or game over? Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/knowledgewharton/2014/02/24/62014/.
Roos, D. (2008, September 25). How pyramid schemes work. HowStuffWorks. Retrieved from http://money.howstuffworks.com/pyramid-scheme1.htm.