Part 1: What is Gamification? (Wendi)

Gamification, the use of game-like structures in non-game environments, has recently received some harsh criticisms. Ian Bogost, a game designer and professor in Georgia Tech's department of Literature, Communication, and Culture, has been quite vocal about his opposition to the term gamification, declaring it bullshit and arguing that it hinders thoughtful, productive uses of games. According to Bogost, gamification has been tossed around so much that it has become more aligned with lazy, corporate uses of games than with the creativity of games themselves. “-ification is always easy and repeatable,” he explained (2011b). In the case of gamification, this often involves excising the most basic terms and elements of games (like points) while ignoring some of the more exciting and involved aspects of game play.

In another piece, Bogost refered specifically to his own panel at the Conference on College Composition and Communication 2011, at which he explained “I was surprised to hear one of the attendees ask explicitly about the possibility of using ‘gamification’ to improve students' performance with and engagement in the writing classroom” (2011a). Bogost’s concerns about the manner in which we as scholars and teachers incorporate gaming into classroom practice are valid; after all, we don’t want to cheapen the possible impact of games. However, simply adding points and achievements to classroom activities are not the only ways to accomplish gamification. In fact, one of the most well-known proponents of games in education has been arguing for something that sounds remarkably like gamification for quite some time.

James Paul Gee's 2003 What Video Games Have To Teach Us is certainly not the first pedagogical work to discuss the productive connections that can be made between games and learning, but it is perhaps the one with the widest early impact. Both an issue of Computers and Composition Online (Colby & Schultz Colby, 2008) and Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher's edited collection Gaming Lives in the Twenty-first Century: Literate Connections (2007) cited Gee's work as their inspiration. What, then, does Gee argue for that has been so compelling?

Gee (2003) claimed that video games “operate with—that is, they build into their design and encourage—good principles of learning, principles that are better than those in many of our … schools” (p. 205). In other words, game design and game-like structures are effective teaching methods, and we might do well to emulate some of them where possible and feasible. He continued, “good games give people pleasures. These pleasures are connected to control, agency, and meaningfulness” (p. 10). We might extend his argument here to add that game design principles and game-like structures can and should be used when they can provide a measure of control, enhance a learner's sense of agency in their own learning process, and when they can make apparent the meaningfulness of learning activities.

We can easily agree that renaming grades as points and changing extra credit activities to achievements does little to enhance meaningfulness or provide greater agency for learners. Nonetheless, we argue from our experience as players and designers that applying game-like structures in certain situations with the intent of providing them the learning pleasures Gee mentioned (through control, agency, and meaningfulness) can enhance engagement and enjoyment. This is gamification at its best: a named concept that describes what happens when the complexity of gameplay changes experience.

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