‘Gamification is bulls**t’- Ian Bogost

‘Gamification is bulls**it’ – Ian Bogost (2011)

Before I respond to this statement, I would like to express how I am defining the word gamification for the purpose of this blog post. I found it difficult to truly respond to this statement until my understanding of gamification was defined. Deterding et al. (2011, p.1-2) provide two definitions of gamification. The first is the influence that ‘the increasing societal adoption’ that video games have on shaping our everyday lives. The second ‘is the use of game design elements in non-game contexts’ (Deterding et al. 2011, p.2). Deterding et al. (2011, p. 3) further define ‘non-game contexts’ as the use of games ‘for other purposes than their normal expected use for entertainment’. ‘Non-game contexts’ include customer engagement, employee performance, training and education, personal development and health (Gartner, 2012). I will only be using the second definition of gamification in this blog post.

My initial response to this statement was rather ineloquently, ‘ehhhhh, sometimes, sometimes not’ (I actually have that written down in my notes!). Contrarily, Bogost (2011) holds a stronger opinion than me on this topic.

Bogost (2011) states that ‘gamification is bulls**t’. Bulls**t, Bogost (2011) states, is the act of concealing, impressing or coercing. On the strength of this, Bogost (2011) suggests the term “exploitationware” should be used in place of gamification. He supports this statement with the evidence that gamification inexpertly capitalizes on a cultural moment in order to make enough money ‘before the next bulls**t trend comes along’ (Bogost 2011). I only half-heartedly agree with this statement and wish to respond to it in two ways.

Firstly, while Extra Credits (2012) show that gamification is used quite frequently in an exploitative manner, it can also be used for good. Take for instance Hopelab’s game, Remission and its sequel Remission 2 (Hopelab n.d.). Remission 2 allows players to fight cancer within a human body using an arsenal of things such as antibiotics and chemotherapy, paralleling real-world strategies (Hopelab, n.d.). Hopelab (n.d.) state that this game aims to give the children and young adults who play the game ‘a sense of power and control and encourage[e] treatment adherence’. Indeed, Remission has proven do just this, with evidence of larger numbers of players adhering to their treatment and a greater confidence in fighting cancer (Hopelab, 2015). Since these games are free to download, and Hopelab depends on quite a number of sponsors to create the game, it can be assumed that this form of gamification generates little money (Hopelab, 2015). In this case, it appears that gamification has been used to genuinely help people, contrary to Bogost’s (2011) definition.

Secondly, gamification is simply a business technique but perhaps gamification can reveal that all business techniques are also bulls**t. Let us consider gamification in an exploitative setting. Extra Credits (2012) uses the McDonald’s Monopoly game as an example of this. This game encourages consumes to buy more McDonald’s in order to win prizes (Extra Credits, 2012). This game does exactly what Bogost (2011) states gamification does: the purchase of extra McDonald’s is concealed behind a game, all the while the organisation is making more money. Yet, I cannot ignore that I want to call this business. Apart from not-for-profits and organisations that are reliably funded by a party other than consumers (i.e. libraries), it is common sense that organisations rely on consumers’ money in order to operate. My short experience in this world has taught me that if McDonald’s aren’t promoting sales through gamification, they are doing so through television adverts or combo deals. With this in mind, is it fair to argue that not only gamification but also all business strategies are bulls**t? Unfortunately that seems to be the way of business!

This is the point in my reflection that I am supposed to show a development in my understanding of the topic. Truth be told, even now my response to Bogost’s 2011 statement that ‘gamification is bulls**t is: ‘ehhhhh, sometimes, sometimes not’.