I had been trying to ignore gamification, hoping it would go away, like an ill-placed pimple or an annoying party guest or a Katy Perry earworm. But a recent encounter with the concept has made me realize that plugging my ears and covering my eyes to it is a losing strategy. Even if our goal is opposition, we need to better understand gamification’s appeal in order to practice that opposition more effectively.
In early April I spoke at the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC, or 4Cs). 4Cs is to the college writing and rhetoric community what the Game Developers Conference is to the video game community. It’s almost as large, with with dozens of simultaneous sessions.
And just as GDC has its swank soirÃ©es run by big devs, publishers, and hardware hawks, so 4Cs boasts parties sponsored by textbook publishers. Instead of peddling platforms, companies like Pearson and Bedford St. Martins hope to lure the elbow-patch and twin-set set to purchase large quantities of their profitable wares.
My second book, Persuasive Games, is all about video games and rhetoric, but it’s had slow uptake among the more traditional, slower-moving rhetoric community. This was the first year I was allowed to speak at the conference, and I was eager to spread my ideas among this large and influential, if traditional, set of scholars.
After all, everyone who attends college is subjected to writing classes. Since we communicate increasingly often with software, we ought to insure that the teachers in charge of these courses understand how computation works. This is generally new territory for most instructors, including college writing and communication professors.
But during the Q&A session following my panel, I was surprised to hear one of the attendees ask explicitly about the possibility of using “gamification” to improve students’ performance with and engagement in the writing classroom. Here was a scholar of rhetoric who didn’t know my ongoing work on procedural rhetoric, but who was familiar with a very recent marketing gimmick. What’s going on?