Serious games

Are you guys on Foursquare? ‘Cause these two books think you should be. Gamification is the new buzzword of choice in the business world, with companies rushing to add points and badges to their websites and arguing that future commerce will be one big integrated game. But will it?

For the Win

Well, if you ask Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter, self-proclaimed gamification enthusiasts and WOW addicts, it might just be. In their book, “For the Win“, they argue that gamified systems, when used properly, can motivate employees and captivate customers. However, they are quick to point out, “used properly” has nothing to do with slapping a leaderboard on an existing system. Instead, they propose that firms should first evaluate whether gamification is a good idea for their business. Is there a particular behavior that you can profit from and influence with a game-like structure? If there is, you’re in luck: the book goes on to present a 6-step approach to gamifying your business, from defining what you’re doing all the way to deploying it.

The book itself is well and simply written, going from some basics of psychology and game thinking to game elements and guidelines for companies. It’s also filled with examples of both successes and epic fails, both of which are, of course, easier to recognize after they’ve happened. That being said, it does take a clear view on gamification as a managerial tool.

Reality is Broken

Which is not at all what Jane McGonigal does in “Reality is Broken“. Considered one of the first books on gamification, it mentions the term itself a grand total of zero times. The premise of McGonigal’s book is that we often choose to retreat into games because they motivate, challenge and engage us much more than real life. She explains, for example, that there are four main types of intrinsic rewards: we all like satisfying work, with the promise of success, social connection and an overarching meaning to our tasks. And good games blend these types of rewards, keeping us glued to computer screens for one more round.

But she goes way beyond computer games and makes a case for games’ potential of changing the world. She speaks of distant family members being brought together by online scrabble, of houses kept tidy through ChoreWars and overweight youths pushed to run and diet by Nike+. She also relates her own battle with a temporary illness, which she overcame by making a team game out of it. And she writes about all of it with a lovely blend of scientific research, practical examples and humor: “If you’ve never pwned your mom, you’re clearly missing out,” she thinks.

So, what’s the deal with gamification? Only time will tell. If you’re practical minded and short on time, look over “For the Win” or take Werbach’s Coursera class. If you’re fascinated by the workings of the human mind and a sucker for optimist stories, go for “Reality is Broken”. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some levels of Cut the Rope to finish. It apparently makes me a better person.