« Discussion

Does Gamification Turn Readers Into Winners and Losers?

Gamification asks readers to solve problems, find clues, and achieve goals, but what happens to the reader who “fails” at these tasks?

By Edward Nawotka

game controller

As publishing becomes “gamified” certain questions are raised, such as whether or not readers can be classified as winners and losers? If books add gaming elements that are intended to motivate — or manipulate (depending on your point of view — readers into taking certain steps to solve problems, find clues, and achieve goals, what happens to the reader who “fails” at these tasks? Will they be left behind by the “winners” who can continue to progress onwards through literature and reading?

Certainly some might say that such a scenario already exists and is inherent in education. Take poetry, for example, which many readers abandon reading and might be called “an acquired taste.” Many readers feel they simply don’t “get it,” — whether because of the structure, the language, the forms or the allusions. If poetry were a game (bear with me, I’m not being literal) than those who “get it” would be winners; those who didn’t would technically be the “losers.”

Does, then, the gamification of publishing offer an opportunity to bring in new readers while simultaneously alienating others? After all, if a book is “gamified,” does it not presuppose such a situation? Perhaps this is merely a rhetorical question, after all, crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles are both games, but not finishing one doesn’t turn one into a “loser” as such.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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10 Comments

  1. Posted September 19, 2011 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    Yes, I think you answered your own question! It’s similar to puzzles: if you don’t finish one you’re not a loser as such.

    But you could feel “second-rate”, one who can’t quite make the grade…Is that what we really want to “sell” literature?

    Quite frankly, I see games and literature as two quite separate activities. Perhaps the gaming association will draw a few more people to reading, but for most people (myself included) these are definitely two separate activities. I, for one, hate games and love books!

  2. Posted September 19, 2011 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I agree with Claude Nougat. For me, Gamification is actually a serious turn-off. I buy a book or an ebook to enjoy a story. I play a game to solve a puzzle or defeat a rival. These are two different activities that, I think, involve two very different parts of the brain.

    Now that’s not to say there isn’t a market for story-games. I’m sure that there are people out there love them. But I am saying that when I read articles on the coming merger of video games and books, I find I am usually reading material by someone who prefers one to the other and is trying to figure out how to graft features of his/her preferred genre onto another that author normally does not enjoy.

    mjt

  3. Posted September 19, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Gamification is not always a zero sum, win or lose mechanic. The act of creating a Wish List on Amazon, collecting books you like or find interesting they way you would a Pokemon Monster. Like collecting Pokemon Cards you then revisiting your Wish List later to cull the “common cards” to determine which books to buy, which to keep for others to buy for you and which to discard in the classic, “Got it, got it, need it, got it” way our Fathers before us went through their baseball cards.

    Gamification could be added to books in the way they use an index of table of contents. Hidden Easter Eggs in certain search words, a reading pedometer that simply tracks your pages read a day giving you a goal or metric to monitor. There are many ways to engage with elements of “gameplay” but they are not always an actual game. Gamification is taking a boring or chore-like function and injecting a level of fun interaction to encourage more engaged participation and increase the positive feeling of interaction.

    An important note that is rarely mentioned, successful Gamification is a skill measured in subtlety and restraint. Heavy handed and gratuitous it becomes a distraction worse than an elaborate Flash Intro on a website.

  4. Posted September 19, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Gamification is not always a zero sum, win or lose mechanic. The act of creating a Wish List on Amazon, collecting books you like or find interesting the way you would a Pokemon Monster. Like collecting Pokemon Cards you then revisit your Wish List later to cull the “common cards” to determine which books to buy, which to keep for others to buy for you and which to discard in the classic, “Got it, got it, need it, got it” way our Fathers before us went through their baseball cards.

    Gamification could be added to books in the way they use an index of table of contents. Hidden Easter Eggs in certain search words, a reading pedometer that simply tracks your pages read a day giving you a goal or metric to monitor. There are many ways to engage with elements of “gameplay” but they are not always an actual game. Gamification is taking a boring or chore-like function and injecting a level of fun interaction to encourage more engaged participation and increase the positive feeling of interaction.

    An important note that is rarely mentioned, successful Gamification is a skill measured in subtlety and restraint. Heavy handed and gratuitous it becomes a distraction worse than an elaborate Flash Intro on a website.

  5. Kathy Sierra
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    If a book needs “gamification”, there is already a serious problem with the book. @Jim Fallone, you may have already answered the question on whether we should use gamification for publishing with this sentence: “Gamification is taking a boring or chore-like function and injecting a level of fun interaction”. If a book is described as a “boring or chore-like function”, this is not a “needs more gamification/engagement” problem. It is a “boring book” problem, and the answer should be obvious.

    If the worst that could happen to “gamified” books (beyond some children’s or specialty/novelty “books”) is the gamification was simply a waste (since the boring/chore-like book was the underlying problem and cannot be fixed with a superficial coating of “fun interaction”), those of us who understand the science beyond it wouldn’t have a problem. The concern for some of us is that there are numerous, credible, peer-reviewed studies going back several decades that show adding an extrinsic reward structure to that which *could* be intrinsically rewarding for its own sake (as most of us would describe reading) can have a DE-motivating effect. In other words, gamifying reading can lead to far worse than people feeling like they are “losers”… it can lead to people caring less for reading, period. (see: self-determination theory, the over-justification effect, Dan Pink’s Ted Talk or book “Drive” for a quick overview).

    In short, adding a layer of operant conditioning / extrinsic rewards over a reading experience may create engagement around the reward structure while simultaneously leading to a de-valuing and loss of inherent pleasure in the act of reading itself. If we have to resort to that, we have already given up on reading. Meanwhile, plenty of books are still able to motivate even those least likely (apparently) to read. For background, the technical book series I created for O’Reilly Media has sold over a million copies in print; I take this all quite seriously. And given that I was also a game developer, I can say with certainty that most of what is being described as gamification applied to publishing is a gross misrepresentation of the science behind games, learning, and behavior.

    Gamification works for chores we *actually* want to do but are too dull or difficult, such as exercise. We cannot make meaningful comparisons between gamification applied to chores and gamification applied to *reading* unless we decide that reading belongs in the dull/difficult/chore category. I do agree that books should/can change, but to gamify them is about the worst possible move we can make in producing more engagement. It is already proven to create a short-term activity spike often followed by a crash to levels *worse* than before the attempt to gamify. (again, see Self-Determination Theory).

  6. Eloise Nolan
    Posted September 27, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    But isn’t ‘gamification’ not about actually turning the book’s content into a game as such but instead reviewing some of the approaches taken, tools used etc and seeing how they can be adapted or used with the book format to give some extra functionality or add to the reader’s experience. Not adding in things such as puzzles to be solved, animated story line options or ‘kills’ etc etc!!
    There’s a lot to be learnt from engaging with the games developers to find out the thinking behind what they can do and how they do it – they have goals they need to also achieve in respect to engaging the user and keeping their interest to the end and that’s not always through in-your-face bells and whistles. The enhancements may not need to be about ‘making it fun’ but rather adding value.

  7. hausdoc
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Gamifying a book may be a viable means to motivate children to read or do reading based homework. Most young children prefer video games over reading and it is a constant struggle in my household to get the kids off the wii or ipad or itouch or droid or computer video games and do their reading or other reading based school work. A book or website that incorporated the gaming aspects that the kids find so irresistible along with the reading assignments might be a good solution to this problem. For example, read a chapter, unlock a new level on a game; read a book, unlock a new game. Additionally, a game that specifically corresponds to the content matter of the reading might be a way to increase interest in the reading material itself. Or maybe not. Interested on your thoughts here.

  8. Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    All the conributions helped me as I approach aligning my novel to both a game and a toy – the total of which I hope will be learning printmaking or, at least, what it might have been like to visit Rembrandt in 1660. Maybe I’m trying to cover too much ground and my effort will end up a big mess! I hope not and I thank you all for what you wrote; I will look at them like road signs: Detour, Bridge Out, End Roadwork, and Stop Ahead.

  9. Chris Leslie
    Posted September 19, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    @Jim..Great Points – Gamification is not about making a book a game
    @hausdoc..also good points

    Gamification is about improving Engagement.

    @Michael..Imagine if someone could “Like” your book on facebook from within the book, or Post a recommendation to Amazon – just an example of social\behavior based game elements – of course they are rewarded for these actions with a badge for completing their 100th review, or level-up to be a “Master Reader” having read 10 books in 6 months

    Imagine if there was a survey in the book that you wanted people to take, gamification of that would improve traction e.g. content unlocking – bonus chapter or video become available and I get a badge for taking the Survey

  10. Ben Lamorte
    Posted February 11, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Hey: hausdoc or anyone relating to the “constant struggle…to get the kids off the wii or ipad or itouch or droid or computer video games and do their reading or other reading based school work.”

    Can we get in touch? I want to hear more about your story. I am starting a non-profit that might have the answer and need more data on the issue of

    Please try me benlamorte@yahoo.com.

    Thanks!

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