Hey Everyone!

This week has flown by! We’re definitely making some headway at CURVE with one of our interactive environment projects–which I plan on posting more details about in my post next week. It’s pretty exciting and involves a tremendous amount of data that’s available–like maps showing the widths of sidewalks, streets, and building facades–as well as some interior measurements on the old Eighty-One Theatre. It’s grave lies beneath our very own Classroom South. For this week I just wanted to wax poetic on some potential applications on gamification in education and how to use it to promote projects.

It’s definitely easier to talk about gamification in the context of video games–the whole point to a video game is creating a gamified experience, and anything else is there to support that function–whether it’s sound, visuals, narrative, or novel controls. Jonathan Blow is an independent video game developer who started with a game, Braid, that was wildly successful for an independent release. His immediate critical and public acclaim allowed him to start speaking publicly about the video game industry and its inherent problems–some ethical. Here’s a video below–I welcome you to watch the entire presentation, but he only begins discussing the process of gamification starting around 50:00.

The point Blow makes about modern game design–especially for social games, like Farmville–is that people are being ‘tricked’ into playing simplistic games. The term ‘tricked’ has a negative connotation, but it’s applicable. In the case of gamifying a process of data mining that people voluntarily enter into–Farmville–the designers are the ones who are actually farming–the players are clicking on the picture of a cow over and over again. Whether or not an activity is fun to perform–it doesn’t mean that activity is healthy–physically or mentally. My goals with applying gamification to education or an online database of archaeological material is to promote mental health and engagement with shared heritage. I want to put a $9.99 price tag on something engaging–not something that I solely profit off of without regard to the buyer. Ethical gamification is using the same psychological manipulation to create engaging experiences–triggering our involuntary desires.

What are these desires? Games are competition. Competition does not imply competing solely against another–it also involves competing with one’s self. Activities that test our limits are inherently attractive, “Can I do this?” Gameful activities offer a ‘safe’ place to test and push our limits–privately or publicly. To apply this to the Phoenix Project at GSU–I have to ask myself: How to I foster an environment of self and public competition that is meaningful, engaging, and beneficial to the individual and the others involved?

One idea is to allow the users to create their own interpretations of archaeological data, and those interpretations–which are showed along side the ‘official’ interpretations–can be voted on by the community and discussed. Logging users’ ‘achievements’ are incredibly important–allowing people to re-interpret artifacts is a heavy one. Beyond that–a user’s logged hours, amount of comments, amount of answers provided, all aspects of their activity are measured and provided to them to challenge and reward them. Something as simple as weekly competitions between users to measure who identified as many artifacts as possible, or find as many errors as possible–this is engagement. It uses the same tricks of creating an engaged interaction and applies it to something arguable useful and beneficial.

I’ll end with this claim: I genuinely believe that gamifying activities is not only a good idea–it will be required by the end of the decade to achieve engagement. I say this, because the advertising industry and media industry are already using it to control our interests. It works. The only way to compete with this slow indoctrination is to counter it with educational interests that utilize the same concepts. This is certainly a heavy-handed claim–and I make it seem apocalyptic–which it isn’t–I simply mean that the processes of learning and engaging communities, which I think already struggles, will continue to struggle until they begin to utilize the same tools as other industries to engage with audiences.

I’d love anyone to comment and discuss the topic! Until next time!

-Robert Bryant