Is it time to level up our attitude to gamification?



In 1863 French chemist Angelo Mariani released his tonic to the world.  Rather self-indulgently called “Vin Mariani” it was cited as the cure to many ailments including, indigestion, tooth ache, vomiting while pregnant, headaches, and melancholy.  His tonic was popular with everyone (who could afford it) from Queen Victoria to Rudyard Kipling and the secret to his success was approximately 25g of pure cocaine in each glass.   The earliest reference to the use of Opium was several thousand years ago (3,400 BC in Mesopotamia to be precise) but it was the Victorians who really refined it and introduced it into everyday life in a way never seen before.  

Obviously, rather than cure any of the ailments it proposed to treat all it did was mask the symptoms behind a purple haze, and - although I admit rather over dramatically - I worry that this is where we have ended up with gamification. 
Gamification is the art of applying gaming principles and motivational cues to everyday life and I believe it is in danger being over prescribed for any and all ailing engagement opportunities. 
Can’t get your children to clean their teeth – Gamify it
Want to increase engagement with your app – Gamify it
Want children to learn better in class – Gamify it 
Your game doesn’t have the dwell time you had hoped – Gamify it
Gamification is the modern “Vin Mariani” guaranteed to perk up your property while doing little to address the underlying issues, and possibly making things worse.
This is even more apparent when it comes to children’s engagement.  We recently looked at what motivates children to play games and found there were 6 main motivation typologies: Adrenalin junkie, Power seeker, Story teller, Creator, Socialiser and Puzzle solver.  We also looked at what was the best way to reward and encourage each typology and only one of them - “Power Seeker” responded to the traditional gamification rewards of levelling up, and increased social status and abilities.  What was also obvious was that the details and nuance of the levelling up and increased social status was very different to what adults responded to. 
If you are looking to engage children in your property, whether for pure entertainment, or for educational purposes it is important to understand which motivation typology you want to target and create a reward mechanism that plays to that motivation. 
If you want to target Creators, reward them with more creative tools and opportunities for sharing their creative output. 
If you want to target Story Tellers, reward them with more characters to interact with, more of the world to explore or more scenarios to role play. 
I would like to hope we are now entering an era where the purple haze of gamification can slowly begin to lift and we can begin to see the engagement mechanic that lies underneath as being the thing we want to improve.  There is absolutely a role for gamification in some situations but rather than just soak everything in metaphorical opioids hoping no one notices, we should move forward and focus on making products that are genuinely compelling and relevant to what children want and need.

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