Beyond Points, Badges, and Scoreboards

In the past, when I’ve told people that I’m interested in serious games for learning, I’d often need to clarify, “not like online Jeopardy,” because quiz show games had become the standard in so many people’s minds. ┬áNow, that gamefication is super-trendy, the discussions often revolve around whether or not to pepper online courses with points, scoreboards, and badges.

I generally lean towards not.

It’s not that I think the gamefication of learning is necessarily bad. I just think that most of the time, we can do so much better.

Instead of essentially trying to trick the learner to stay engaged through extrinsic rewards like points or badges, I’d rather spend my energy ensuring that the learning activities are themselves engaging and useful. I can still see elements of gamification as periodically useful, say to help motivate the user through dry, introductory material that is necessary to master before they moving on to more complex material. However, I’m wary of gamification when it becomes an overall strategy for learning design.

Along those lines, I was excited when the GDC Vault posted Jane McGonigal’s GDC 2011 presentation, We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges: How to Re-invent Reality Without Gamification. The video is an hour long, but it’s absolutely worth the time.

As part of the presentation, McGonigal distinguishes between:

  • Gamification – making something LOOK like a game by giving you points, levels, badges, and high scores to convince you to do things that you might otherwise not want to do (extrinsic rewards)
  • Gameful Design – making something FEEL like a game by generating positive emotions, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments (intrinsic rewards)

McGonigal argues that gameful design, rather than gamification, is more likely to result in games with a positive impact on the user’s lives and the world.

Similarly, I think that learning that follows focuses on these same intrinsic rewards is more likely to have a real-world, long-term impact.