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Points, badges, levels, leaderboards, rewards – this is gamification, a term that describes competivizing tasks and events in a fun way. And I just earned a Dictionary Ninja badge for using a word even uglier than “gamification.”
Gamification has always been with us, from boy scout badges and karate belts to lotteries and charity challenges. But social media has taken it to a new level, pun intended. Some people think this is the tsunami of the future, others that it’s just the latest fad. Supporters point to brain research; after all, we’re hardwired to seek rewards, while cynics claim it’s just a gimmick.
What gamification is not. Credit to marketoonist.com.
The trouble with describing gamification is that it’s both profound and superficial. It’s whatever you want it to be. To early proponents and evangelists like Gabe Zichermann, gamification is the cheat code that makes life more fun. He even coined the term “funware,” while to skeptics like Ian Bogost, it’s “exploitationware.”
But what gamification isn’t is temporary. It’s important and it’s here to stay. I say that with confidence because gamification had been with us since God gamified the Garden of Eden. Eat the apple, game over.
But like music or film gamification is a creative force that’s large enough to contain the best and worst humanity has to offer, from the evil manipulation of the Hitler Youth to the developmental aspirations of the Girl Scouts. And now that we have social networks larger than countries and enough processing power to assign a value to how well you slept last night or how long you brushed your teeth, gamification will no longer be something we have to go out into the world to find. Like music and film, which have evolved from aristocratic theaters to egalitarian smart phones, gamification will illuminate our lives wherever we are, whether we want it to or not.
I just wish we had a cooler name for it.