Have learning experiences sold their soul in the name of gamification?

By Simon Rupniak November 20, 2018

From fintech to dating, game mechanics are being used to engage, motivate and hold on to your attention. Gamification is everywhere and it’s no surprise that gamification is a persistent term in digital learning too. But as a bit of a gamer myself, I can’t help but think many games for learning are missing something. I think I know what it is, but first let’s talk about food.

If you’ve watched Masterchef, you’ll recognise this scenario. A contestant, eager to be creative and do something different, takes a beloved dish, like a pie, and ‘deconstructs’ it.

The judges look on in horror. They have fond childhood memories of that pie. Now, it has been pulled apart and reassembled in such a way that it’s unrecognizable. All the parts are there, it’s well cooked but it’s just not the same. It has lost its soul.

Our industry often makes the same mistake. We deconstruct games into their component parts like timers, scores, badges, avatars and achievements. Then, we reassemble them around the same old dull content and pretend it’s a game. Except it isn’t, is it? What you’re really looking at is the e-learning equivalent of a deconstructed pie – a game that has lost its soul.

Whether it’s determination, frustration, anxiety, joy or excitement, good games (and learning experiences for that matter) make you feel something. Tapping in to those base human emotions is important if you want to create an experience that’s going to have a meaningful impact on learners, as Charlotte Hills describes in her Neuroscience Hacks for Learning webinar.

What really bothers me about this situation is that games have so much potential. The very best of them tackle thought provoking issues, test your strategic genius, force you to make decisions in the face of complex moral dilemmas. In doing so, they can give you interesting insights in to who you are.

We’ve been creating some powerful games at Lumesse Learning (which is now SABA, by the way). We’ve done it by throwing away the gamification rule book and seeking out some better inspiration which we wanted to share with you. So, set aside your timers, points, scoreboards and avatars. Here are five games (with soul) to inspire your next gamified learning project:

A Normal Lost Phone

An award winning app-based game that turns your phone into someone else’s. You have to work out whose it is, and why they’ve lost it. It’s a thought provoking experience. Snooping around someone else’s phone is uncomfortable enough, but behind it all is a clever little story that challenges your views on relationships, society and gender.

The Curse of Monkey Island

Not a single timer, leaderboard or badge in sight. This linear point and click adventure series has inspired a few of our ‘gamified’ learning projects. Make decisions, test theories, solve puzzles and, most importantly, laugh heartily throughout as the expertly written story unfolds. I loved this game. Arrr!

Papers please

An oddly addictive indie game that’s all about checking paperwork at border control. Sounds boring but it’s oddly addictive. Can you catch those sneaky blighters while still fulfilling your quota for the day?

Cook, Serve, Delicious!

Serve your customers fast food before they get fed up and leave. It sounds easy but just wait until it gets busy. A great simulation of the fast pace and focus needed in a busy kitchen.

Her Story

Told entirely through muddled snippets of a police interview video. Incredible acting in this smart but low budget production gets your brain thinking. No timers, leaderboards or scoreboards here either, just a puzzle that needs solving and a story that needs telling – great stuff.

If gamification is right for you, let’s make something compelling. Let’s make something with soul.

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