Was Gamification Bullshit Afterall?

For over a decade, “gamification” has been the prevailing buzzword, promising to infuse a dash of gaming enchantment into our mundane tasks. But was it merely a façade, as game designer Ian Bogost vehemently argued back in 2011? Let’s delve into the gamified world and discern whether it’s a genuine game-changer or simply another marketing gimmick.

The Critique That Ignited the Debate

In the past, Ian Bogost unabashedly declared, “Gamification is Bullshit.” He accused it of being a slick marketing ploy concocted by consultants to transform corporate life into a mere video game simulation. According to him, it’s a form of smoke and mirrors, impressing and coercing without any substantive foundation. Bogost also took a swipe at gamification for oversimplifying the potent elements that make games truly impactful.

At the time, I fervently objected to his stance, even challenging him directly on Twitter and urging him to contribute to the solution by showing us a better way. His response likened it to a “gentle form of terrorism,” asserting that it was akin to saying to the games industry, “If you don’t like me crapping on your shoes, then teach me how to use the toilet.”

I still stand by that request. If the games industry had ceased complaining, we could have collaboratively elevated gamification beyond its initial shortcomings. Instead, many engaged in griping and essentially behaved like infants.

Was He Mistaken?

Now, was he mistaken? Was gamification indeed flawed at that point? Yes, it was. A frenzy ensued, with companies proliferating and offering cookie-cutter points-and-badges solutions to gamify anything and everything. And it was all subpar. Experts advocated slapping points and badges on everything; books were written, talks were given, and it was essentially a land grab in the Wild West!

Looking back, it was a dismal period, and I admit I was right there with them. Now, I like to believe I was different, but in the early days, we faced a genuine problem. We recognized its potential power but lacked a deep understanding of the underlying science. Some of us made an effort to learn, but regrettably, many did not!

Many blindly adhered to the old Gartner Hype Cycle but forgot that the trough of disillusionment would inevitably catch up with them — farewell to Badgeville.

So yes, back then, gamification was predominantly bullshit!

Is Gamification Still Bullshit?

I wish I could declare that everything is rosy now and that gamification has unequivocally proven itself. To some extent, it has. I’ve witnessed numerous experts make a significant impact on companies, research, and people. They painstakingly ensured they were doing it right, and many continue to do so — a heartening realization.

However, for every success story, I still encounter three or four peddling nonsense. Articles regurgitate decade-old content, and statements proven false years ago are churned out recklessly.

Gamification consistently proves successful when done well, with proper consideration of game design and a nuanced understanding of motivation and behavior. When points, badges and leaderboards (amongst many other mechanics and so on)  are relegated to feedback, onboarding and simple engagement loops –  gamification shines.

Gamification has never been inherently flawed, but a plethora of misguided practices has given it a bad rap. Misinformation, lazy application, and misguided evangelism have not been helpful.

But… I firmly believe it is still worth pursuing. Gamification possesses the transformative potential to better the world when executed correctly by the right people.

So, be that person and master your craft!

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