Outside the Box (one critical question) Sebastian Deterding (@dingstweets) Wharton Gamification Symposium Philadelphia, August 8, 2011 cb
<br>I’ve been asked to pose one critical question about gamification in six minutes, which is of course an impossible task: There are manymore questions to be asked, and most of them need more than six minutes to elaborate. So I decided to break the rules a bit.
Dystopia Utopia (I & II)To summarize some of my gripes (and hopes), I’d like to present you three visions of where gamification can go – one dystopian andtwo utopian – before continuing on to one specific question.
At worst, gamification is ... selling incentive systems and technology under the ruse of games. (Call that “the sorry state of the art”)The dystopia is pretty much where we are right now. It is the overselling of reward or incentive systems (and the underlying paradigmsof behaviorism or homo oeconomicus) and »turn-key« technology solutions under the ruse of »the true power of games«.
At best ... marrying the psychology of motivation with the practice of design. (Call that “motivational design”)Against that, the hope (and unfulfilled potential) I see in the »gamification« hype is bringing together the insights of psychology onintrinsic motivation with the practice of design – and get these into education and the workplace.
At best ... a step towards the holistic study and design of rule systems. (Call that “rule design studies”)The second utopia I call »rule design studies«. All of our social (legal, economic) life runs on rules – implicit and explicit –, rules thatare now increasingly hard-coded into software (see Lessig’s »Code is Law«); but we never made those rule systems an object ofinterdisciplinary, holistic study on their own right.
The best title for this idea has already taken by this introductory law textbook: How to do things with rules. How to design a law forregistering CO2 emissions, say? Or a business process for matching jobs and teams in a distributed enterprise? Or craft a code ofconduct and regulation mechanisms for an online community? From the precise wording of the rule to the organizational processesand software down to the actual interface design?
Law Sociology Governance Social order Public Policy Institutionalization Interpretation Scripts (STS) Economics CS Game Theory Algorithms Incentives Modeling, abstraction, Business processes automation, simulationThis would span many disciplines: Law, sociology, economics, computing science...
Law Sociology Governance Social order Public Policy Institutionalization Interpretation Scripts (STS) Economics CS Game Theory Game Algorithms Incentives Studies Modeling, abstraction, Business processes automation, simulation Design Dynamics & Aesthetics SemioticsWhat game studies would bring to this table, again, would be design – a practice-based, holistic understanding how all these elementsinteract to give rise to behavioral dynamics and aesthetic experiences (think MDA framework) – and how they can convey meaning andvalues (think procedural rhetorics).
</br>Ok, end of breakout, on to the critical question.
My question is this: Why, in the context of games and gamification, when we are all here – outside the box –, are we still only thinkingand talking about stuff happening here – inside the box?
What do I mean? Well, what’s the first thing that comes to our minds when I say »playing video games«? I submit that it ispredominantly this here:
The BoxVery literally, it is a box. Some square screen, some interface tied to a piece of hardware running a piece of software that generatesoutput in reaction to our input.
Game The Box A designed artifactIt is a game – a designed artefact. And that is what we have been talking about in gamification: the artifact and its design.Are we missing anything in this picture?
Game The Box A designed artifactVery much so. We’re missing everything that is happening outside the box: People, and what they do with the game, including all theculture and social norms and conventions and negotiations and practices ...
Game The Box A designed artifact Playing A frame of engagementWhat we are missing is playing – a specific mode, context or frame of engaging with that artefact. Playing video games – and theexperiences and engagement we associate with it – very literally requires both: A game, and playing it.
For we can play with many different things: Sticks and stones, other people, passing cars on a long holiday trip - even work. Likewise,we can engage with games in many different ways: We can test them, review them, analyse them, play them - or work on them. Toillustrate, let me present you some quotes from interviews I did for my PhD research:
“I need to be very routinized; I mustn’t let myself drift. ” “I hammer it through. ” “Often, you have to force yourself to do it. ” “Youre under real pressure. ” “Its extremely exhausting. ” “It wears you out. ” “My friends usually cannot comprehend how stressful this is. ”What are people talking about here? The context of my talk is a dead give-away, of course: They talk about playing video games. Theseare video game journalists reporting on their experience of playing a game as part of their job reviewing games.
“Sometimes, you have to play, you have to get further – and then, play is work. ”I find this quote sums up their experience most nicely.
Question (v0.2) When work can make the best game tedious, why should games make work engaging?So my question, or the second version of it, is this: Why, when the context of work can make the best game a tedious experience, whyshould games (or game elements) automatically make work engaging?
Sociotechnical systems Information ecologies Situated action Embodied interaction Social contextures ...And the weird thing is: We know all this – in theory. In organizational psychology and HCI and STS, we know this at least since the1950s (which is when the term »socio-technical system« was first introduced): To understand the uses and effects of technical systems,we cannot separate them from the specific social contexts in which they are embedded.
Question (v0.9) What about context?So that’s the technical (penultimate) version of my question: What about context? Well, what about it? What characterizes the contextwe are interested in – playing video games?
“Sometimes, you have to play, you have to get further – and then, play is work. ”I think this quote gives a good entry into that question. For it points us back – not to game studies, but to the beginnings of the studyof play.
»First and foremost, all play is a voluntary activity.« Johan Huizinga homo ludens (1938)As Huizinga already pointed out, one core characteristic of play is that it’s voluntary.
»First and foremost, all play is a voluntary activity.« a.k.a. “autonomy” Johan Huizinga homo ludens (1938)It is »voluntariness«, autonomy, which research based on Self-Determination Theory finds is one of the three intrinsic, basic humanneeds that playing games caters to, and thus makes it so engaging. (And Scott Rigby will certainly talk more on that tomorrow.)
And that is whats worrying me: Past implementations of gamification have happened in leisure contexts. Today, we’re entering workplaces and education – more often than not, involuntary contexts. Dropping one and the same design elements into these verydifferent contexts might have very different effects. A leaderboard, say, might easily demotivate workers by feeling coercive, reducing myautonomy as a worker.
Game The Box A designed artifact Playing A frame of engagementSo to sum up: We don’t need games (or game elements) to play. But we might need play to make games (or game elements) engaging.Yet what we are thinking and talking about is only inside the box that is the game. We are missing the other half.
Question (v1.0) What about play?So that’s the critical question I want to ask: What about play?