Why Gamification is still BS
About two years ago, I gave up trying to tell teachers why Gamification isn’t new, bold or innovative.
In the past, I’d jump into any Twitter discussion and try to steer gaming-curious teachers out of the land badges, points and levels. I’d remind them that gamification was created by marketers. I’d let them know that if they’ve run a sticker program or points system for good behaviour/work, then they have already gamified their classrooms. Eventually, I grew weary of this, packed up my “Down with Badges” sign and minded my own business (and games.)
I’m seeing more and more conference sessions being advertised as “Game Based Learning and Gamification”, as if the two go hand in hand. Some try to be critical of Gamification by “digging deeper” or “going beyond the hype”. But they still use the frame of Gamification as if it ever had a place in education, ignoring that it was dreamed up my marketers to track customer preferences and sell them plastic junk more efficiently.
I’m also hearing more teachers talk about “gamifying” their classroom when they ask for advise on how to get started using Minecraft. The word gamification hasn’t gone away. It’s become synonymous with game based learning. And it makes Steve cry.
Many teachers new to video games are told to add a layer of gamification to their existing programs. As if somehow, renaming assignments “quests” and grades “experience points”, will keep the kiddos engaged. And here’s the thing: it will.
Gamification, like all extrinsic motivation, is effective. All those rats pressing all those levers knew a good thing when they hit it.
Do the work and get a candy? I’m in. It works on students and it works on us. That’s why we collect air miles, buy big on double points days at the grocery store. The thrill of getting “something” for our effort is hard to resist.
But it isn’t learning. And learning is what all this teaching stuff is supposed to be about.
As a teacher, I try to instill in my students a love of learning, a curiosity drive that never runs out and a sense of wonder that feeds the next “What if . . . ” question. Most days I don’t even come close to doing this. I’m still figuring out how to do all that, but one thing I do know is badges are not required.
Earning badges and amassing XP quickly becomes not just the reward but the end goal itself. The task is done for the badge/XP/air miles. It’s not the learning that matters, but the reward for getting through the unpleasant task of actually doing the work.
That’s already the state of education.
We don’t need to add a game layer to the learning to get there. We are already there. Stickers for good work. Dollar store treats from the treasure chest at the end of a week of good work. Double Marble Day for your Celebration Jar. It’s all gamification. Teachers are already doing it. We don’t need any more conferences, workshops or infographics extolling the revolutionary, innovation that is Gamification. And we don’t need to “dig deeper” or “go beyond the hype”.
What we do need is to stop talking about gamification. When we talk games and learning, we need to peel off the badges, wipe the XP and abandon the quests.
It’s okay, we can do it. When we need our next dose of gamified learning, we can always just go grocery shopping.