The one thing that’s wrong with gamification

Games are made by rules. Rules structure our choices in the game. And it’s not a game if there’s no trade-off. So, games require loaded choices: you trade one thing for another, and you can’t have it all. Things that we call “gamified” really fail to do this.

What trade-off did you choose in order to get your Foursquare badge? What rules of the Foursquare game gave meaning to that choice, other than physical limits on how many times you can press “Check In” on your smartphone?

If something is really a game, it has nothing to do with the badges you receive. If something isn’t a game, you can “pointsify” it easily, and then forget all the delicate balancing of rules that makes choices meaningful, at which point you don’t have a game either.

As much as I want to strike the word ‘gamification’ from the universe, it’s probably close to the time at which people figure out that building games is more about building a matrix of choices than it is about building a cabinet for badges, high scores, and so on.

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