Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Modest Proposal

I recently talked to Jane McGonigal, one of the world's foremost experts on games and the author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Makes Us Better and How They Can Change the World. The interview will appear in the November issue of Convene; McGonigal will speak Jan. 9 at Convening Leaders 2012, in San Diego.

I liked a lot of what McGonigal had to say, but perhaps nothing more than what I didn't hear her say: gamification. A quick flip through the index of her book turns up the terms "game communities," "gamer regret," and "gameplay emotion," but if the term "gamification" appears in the book, it's fleeting.

I was happy, because I don't like the word at all. It sounds to me like a chemical process, like liquefication, which happens independently, without human interaction. Or maybe we reach for the machine-like word gamification because the modern focus on games most often seems to be on those played on computers.

But nothing could be more human or deeply rooted in our social natures than playing games.  Among the most illuminating pages of McGonigal's book were those in which she retells a story first told by Herodotus, about how the ancient Lydians got through an 18-year-long famine by inventing games that we still play, including dice and ball.
Herodotus tells us that in the past games were created as a virtual solution to unbearable hunger. And, yes, I see a future in which games continue to satisfy our hunger to be challenged and rewarded, to be creative and successful, to be social and part of something larger than ourselves. But I also see a future in which the games we play stoke our appetite for engagement, pushing and enabling us to make stronger connections -- and bigger contributions -- to the world around us.
So my proposal is this: if McGonigal, not to mention Herodotus, can manage to talk about games without using the word gamification, so can we in the meetings industry.

I think it will help us remember that it is we who are playing the games, not the computers, and for what purposes.

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