Gamification, Bullshit, and Teaching History
Ian Bogost is always interesting to watch. He hit the blogosphere recently with a strong declaration that ‘Gamification is Bullshit‘, where bullshit
is used to conceal, to impress or to coerce. Unlike liars, bullshitters have no use for the truth. All that matters to them is hiding their ignorance or bringing about their own benefit.
Gamification is bullshit.
He’s taking aim at marketing, for the most part; ‘gamification’ being a tool to facilitate exploitation; gamification a pervision of what makes games ‘mysterious, magical, powerful’. Google ‘gamification is bullshit’, and you’ll find at least 268 000 results. Clearly, he’s touched a nerve.There were 99 comments on his post as I write this. But I think he’s wrong, at least as far as education is concerned. Isn’t that what Play the Past is all about? Or at least, parts of it? I wrote a post not long ago called ‘Gamify My Historian’s Craft‘, where I described a simple achievements system and leaderboard. The aim of my ‘gamification’ was to encourage students to step beyond the formal assessment exercises, to pursue tutorials and activities of their own free will that enhanced the course content. It was quite successful, and darnit, I’m doing it again.
When the talk turns to serious games or games + learning, a similar move is often visible. The people drawn to gamification in this sense are drawn to it because it makes them look like they’re doing something to improve their yields, reach the unreached, learn that last stubborn group of the unlearned, mobilize the unmotivated. Gamification here is both alibi and life-preserver. It explains why there is something still to be done (we haven’t used games! which is why people don’t buy our stuff/take their medicine/learn their math/smash the state!) and why you should keep the gamifier in the picture. (Do youknow how to make a game, Mr. CEO/university president/non-profit manager/Marxist theorist?)
But these are waves that wash up on the beach. When the tide recedes, the sand is still there.
What’s the sand of gamification? What will be left when this too has passed like the once-universal faith that we would all one day live and work in Second Life?
…so are those of us who employ game mechanics in our teaching of history just caught up in the latest fad? Are we pursuing a Holy Grail for engagement and deep learning we’ll never reach?
Are we wrong?