on gamification and repetitive learning

Since I am working on an educational game for teaching children different aspects of music theory, I feel like I need to address this issue of gamification.

It’s so sad to see the word “gamification” become so abused because, honestly, it could be used to express the idea of applying the best concepts of game theory and education to learning and interaction.  Instead, most implementations of “gamification” are (pondering how to be nice and failing) LAME, boring, annoying or even worse EVIL.

Gaming is not just about points, badges, levels, leader boards, rewards, and missions.  Gaming is more than the mechanics.  Some of those mechanics are highly useful both for monitoring, encouraging certain behaviors, and creating visibility, but is it a game? Does the end product contain all the pieces that make a game sustainable?  Does it achieve flow – that special mind state that we humans find enjoyable and learn faster when experiencing?

And for me – does the tactic of gamification add value to the world?   I used to work in the gaming industry, but I was tired of making addictive games that did not benefit society. We purposely created games that were as addictive as possible.

Sadly enough I was so anti-gaming at one point (a divorce where game addiction is a factor will do that to you) that I didn’t consider what I learned from game theory valuable.  I saw gaming’s ability to encourage addictive behavior as a dangerous tool and to be avoided and I dropped out of the gaming scene.  My discussions with Jane McGonial, at foocamp and her whole hearted displays of physical and personal interaction melted my hardened heart.  Thank you Jane!

“My own personal metaphor is that gamification is the high fructose corn syrup of engagement. Ultimately, very unhealthy for all but the repetitive, dull, boring tasks for which there never WILL be intrinsic rewards. There IS great value in that… It is when gamification is applied to stuff that does (or could) have potential for intrinsic value (like, say, READING) where the damage lives.”  http://www.paulpedrazzi.com/post/6215504253/kathy-sierra-on-gamification

I would instead like to look to gamification and addiction as a way to help people get over the difficulty of repetitive learning.  For example, our game TuneHopper appears to be a fun little game while, slyly in the background, it is training your musical ear.  It is also slowly introducing scales and notes so that unconsciously you begin to gain a better understanding.  In the next version of the game, I want people to actually sing the notes into the mic instead of pushing buttons.  They’ll truly learns what E sharp sounds like.  I also want a composer app where players learn the notes and the sounds while creating their own songs to share.

I have hopes.  I like that Greg (our little green dude in tunehopper) purrs and giggles when you do things right and cries when you don’t and that inspires my nieces and nephews to work hard to feed Greg and make him happy. I like that teenagers at my family christmas party were challenging each other to see who could get a higher score and, as musicians, saw it as a reflection of their musical prowess.  I believe we can make learning more fun and gamification is a way to achieve this!

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