Playfulness, Seriousness and Gamification

People want gamification to mean certain things to them. They want to take the word and try to bend into whatever they think will sell their next big idea to someone. This tends to lead to people arguing about what it actually is and what constitutes a gamified product. Two such ideas seem to be Playful design and Serious games. Some think that they are gamification, others that they have no place near the word. Personally, I think we should stop trying so hard to define a made up word and just start learning what we can from the people who use it!

Let’s Get Playful

So what is playful design? For me it is taking something that is intrinsically boring and trying to make it a little more fun. I saw a lovely example of this from Playgen. They showed a registration form that was mandatory. Now, I don’t know about you, but I hate filling in forms. Their approach was to try to make the form an interactive experience, a game if you will. Rather than ticking a box to select gender, you had to choose between two avatars. Steps were done in a wizard style, so you were not just given a page of text boxes. Each step was colourful and fun to look at. Once you had finished, your digital self was “born” and the registration was completed.

Now this is not that new an idea. RPG games have been using this for a long time. Choose your character. Use sliders and the like to change the age, height, weight etc. All the while, there is a graphic representation of the character evolving as you fill in your “form”.

The upshot is, that this is talking a pretty boring process, and adding game like mechanics and ideas to make it more engaging. I think that pretty much covers the tick boxes for something being gamified?

Let’s Get Serious

Serious games seem to split the ranks of gamification advocates. Some think that they have no place in the world of “proper” gamification, some (myself included) think they embody it. But first, what is a serious game? A very basic example is a game called Number Invaders. The idea is to help teach children math in a fun and engaging way. When I was a kid, my dad wrote a game for me on the Spectrum ZX called(I think ) the Maths Train. It was based on a game we had at school on the BBC Micro. The idea was that every time you got a question right, the train would move closer to the station. It was simple, but I loved it. Number Invaders takes this idea to the next level. You are given a problem to solve and you have to shoot answer with your space invader inspired ship.

Of course, this is a tiny example of what can constitute serious games. This can be applied to political simulations, stock market simulations and much much more, but they all take the same approach. Take an intrinsically uninteresting or none game like process (eg learning maths, for many not that intrinsically interesting or rewarding), adds game like mechanics and ideas and makes it more engaging. Again, ticking the main gamification boxes for me.

I Don’t Care if You Agree with me

I don’t’ expect or even want you to all agree with me. I just want you to have a think about what I am saying. Gamification is many things to many people. It is a terrible word that should never have been coined, but we have it so have to live with it! Stop being so precious about loving or hating it and get into your heads that it is here, it always has been here in one form or another and it is going to stay. We all need to be on the same page, whether we totally agree with each other or not, we are all trying to do the same thing.

Make the world a hell of a lot more playful, fun and engaging!


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3 thoughts on “Playfulness, Seriousness and Gamification”

  1. Playful, playfulness, and gameful gamefulness terms are quite difficult to translate into Portuguese. This makes the meanings of these concepts become more disparate between scholarly work.


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