The Experience Is The Reward

I abhor the concept of gamification. This might sound weird considering I believe we can learn so much from games and I believe that life itself is the greatest game of all. Where the difference comes into play for me is why we play the game in the first place. If you’re playing for the rewards, be they material or social recognition, then you’ve lost the real focus of the game. The experience is the reward, to play and experience the game to its fullest.

If anything, the overuse of gamification within online games today is one of the primary reasons why they do fail. In effect, often the experience of the game is so shallow and meaningless due to poor game design, that game designers often have to add in superficial “rewards” along they way to give players something worth playing for (i.e. a golden carrot), otherwise the game would be completely boring. And if anything, people eventually do see this shallow and meaningless gameplay after playing the game for a while and experiencing the “golden carrot” pattern repetitively, to the point that they see them for what they truly are.

Therefore, it is not the games themselves that we need to learn from and design into our lives but instead we need to learn from the experience of play, as this is the natural process of life itself. A young fox cub chasing a butterfly is learning valuable life skills, as these will be essential in his ability to hunt when he grows up. Play within businesses itself is a crucial element that is so often overlooked and ignored to the point of being forbidden. Yet the ability to experiment and make mistakes in research, be it for a medical company or for a web firm, is how we learn to innovate. Without that ability to play, without giving ourselves permission to be imperfect, we would not be able to survive and evolve as a species.

If anything, what I’ve learnt the most from online games has to deal with social interaction and, more specifically, how to overcome the social limitations and mechanics of the game to work more effectively as a team. Thus if anything, it was how we worked as a social group to come up with creative solutions not designed within the game, so as to be able to play it more effectively. In effect, we played around and tested different social interactive methods and structures until we found ones that worked for us and improved the effectiveness of our group as a whole. This is exactly the same reason why so many of the best raid leaders within WoW weren’t people with MBA’s but instead people like head nurses who worked within ER departments. In effect, just as these people brought their amazing social capabilities and knowledge into the game, so too should we take what we’ve learnt socially from within these games into our lives as well, so as to improve them. A quote from John Thackara’s book In The Bubble below is a perfect example of this.

Online games are an object lesson for academia, Herz says, not because universities need to be making games, but because online games illustrate the learning potential of a network and the social ecology that unlocks that potential.

Among young people who appear demotivated in formal learning situations, learning and teaching occur in a collaborative, highly social way in a game context. Herz continues: “If a gamer doesn’t understand something, there is a continuously updated, distributed knowledge base maintained by a sprawling community of players from whom he can learn. Newbies are schooled by more skilled and experienced players. Far from being every man for himself, multiplayer online games actively foster the formation of teams, clans, guilds, and other self-organizing groups.”

Anytime I have seen something decent come from gamification, it wasn’t about making something game-like but instead about giving people a new perspective on their lives which in turn improves the experience of it. This to me isn’t gamification but great design, particularly from a visual design perspective. For example, I myself am conceptualizing the ability to easily visualize data within a CMS concept I’m currently working on. The benefits of this are obviously dramatic because it would allow people the ability to experience their lives from different visual perspectives, thus empowering them and inspiring them within their journey. Again, this isn’t gamification but instead information design and data visualization as done by the likes of Edward Tufte.