Allison's Book Bag

The Gamification of Books

Posted on: May 28, 2013

Every week I try to find an interesting news item to share. My latest comes from Gamification Corp. According to them, “publishers producing print media need to adapt in order to stay relevant”.

For those who don’t take the time to read Gamification Corp.’s article, here are the three types of gamification that can be added to books:

  1. The addition of simple games into the books themselves, like tic-tac-toe
  2. Gamification elements that display and reward progress through the books, like progress bars and badges
  3. A hybrid of the top two that challenges players to play a game in order to progress through a book.

Granted, some mediums do eventually fade away. There are limited situations anymore where someone would use an abascus or a typewriter. Not that we no longer need tools for adding or writing, but instead of the abascus we use a calculator and instead of a typewriter we use a keyboard. In other words, we have modified our tools as our knowledge developed. And, so one day, maybe more of us will use e-readers than print books.

Sometimes we ourselves change in how we use a medium. For example, hardly anyone uses a tape recorder these days to play music. Instead we use CD-players or MP3 players. Yet tape recorders continue to survive and improve in their technology, because they’re still the device we use to record interviews, sounds, or anything else our hearts fancy.

Other mediums, however, hang around despite predictions of their death. Radio might not be as popular as when it first came into existence, but one can still listen to dramas, news, and other features on it. Stoves are also still around, despite the convenience of microwaves. And I suspect books will continue to exist. After all, we have no lack of formats for them including audio and e-books.

Of course, Gamification isn’t talking about the death of books. Just of print ones. Which is something that we keep hearing the possibility of, thanks to e-readers.

Or are they? Gamification Corp goes onto quote the managing director of Nosy Crow, an independent company creating books and apps in the United Kingdom: “Books are directly competing with media and other games. We do not want reading to be the most boring thing a child can do on a phone or a tablet.”

Seems to me they’re warning of the death of reading if publishers don’t adapt books to include games. In other words,  reading itself may die if games aren’t used to encourage it.

Is this really the way our world is headed? When I talk to certain students, who can tell me how to play every game imaginable but still can’t memorize their multiplication tables, I have to wonder. When I check assignments and see the names of games spelled correctly but even the most basic words like “was” spelled incorrectly, I have to wonder. When I offer new hardcover books as gifts to fifth-graders but have a student pick a cheap toy instead, I have to wonder.

And yet I think that’s a skewed perspective. After all, it was also a student who introduced me to The Olympian series by Rick Riordan and The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Stewart. Bless those passionate readers! When I broaden my outlook to include adults, I think of ones like my husband who does love a late-night (and early morning) of computer gaming, but he also just as much enjoys his hefty crime novels. Actually, if you change the hobbies they pursue and the genre they read, this describes everyone I know. Yes, people who love games are also perfectly capable of loving other things that aren’t at all game-like.

So in the end I think Gamification has the skewed perspective. Yet I bring up their article because sometimes advertising campaigns can lead a society into believing an idea that might not exist without marketing strategies. Such as that the best way to engage ones into reading is to “match it with gaming activities”.

To me, I think there will be always those who don’t like to read and games won’t change them. As Gamification themselves admit, many video games are already built around narratives; but I don’t see those narratives encouraging students to read. As for the multitudes of book lovers (even those who prefer the digital format), a good story alone is enough motivation to read.

What about the rest of you? Where do you see the future of reading and books?

5 Responses to "The Gamification of Books"

From what you have written it does seem as if Gamification is attempting to convince people of what they are proposing. Do I go for it–a resounding NO. I do like to play certain games on occasion-but I love to cuddle up and read a good paperback book. Eventually I may buy an e-reader and I do on occasion down load and read a book on my computer but I find that extremely uncomfortable. I hope with all my heart that “real” books stay around for millenniums-

E-books tempt me only to the extent that I keep outgrowing the space in our library for printed books. 🙂 As for reading books as part of apps or games, I can’t see that will ever happen.

Radio doesn’t survive by being like TV. TV doesn’t survive by being like movies. Movie theaters don’t survive by being like home theaters. Fast food chains don’t survive by offering food like your mom’s.

If kids want to play a game, they’ll play a game. They’re not going to read a book that offers simplistic games and silly rewards when they can play Wii or Playstation or Xbox.

In television there’s a thing called counter-programming. You don’t schedule a singing competition opposite American Idol. (In its heyday, that is.) Instead, you program for the people who AREN’T watching American Idol. Can you compete with video games by offering simplistic games that require reading? No, you can’t.

Furthermore, there’s the question of whether gamified books will ATTRACT game-loving kids or CREATE game-loving kids. An oft-used analogy when discussing the gamification of books is cheesy broccoli; to get kids to eat their broccoli, you drown it in cheese. But has anyone looked into the eating habits of people who grew up on cheesy broccoli and other “disguised” healthy foods, comparing them to those who grew up on unadulterated fruits and veggies? (I searched far and wide for research into this question, but found nothing.) Are young eaters of cheesy broccoli being taught to eat healthy foods, or are they being taught to put cheese on everything? Obviously what I’m getting at is: are gamified books a good strategy for publishers if they drive customers to the competition in the long term?

And it’s not just a matter of kids preferring video games to books. It’s also a matter of parents wanting something better for their children. Yes, there will be plenty of misguided parents who think gamified books will trick their kids into reading. But there will be far more parents (I predict) who will want an ALTERNATIVE to video games, realizing that solid reading skills are the gateway to a good education. And those parents will want plain old books (whether print or electronic), not ones that have been gamified.

If kids prefer video games to books, the solution is to be found (as is often the case) with parents. If your kid spends hours playing games and never picks up a book, gamified books are not the answer. Getting rid of the video games is the answer. It’s also the answer to kids not going outside and not doing their homework. It’s sad that more parents don’t realize this.

I don’t know what the future of reading and books is, but I do know that as long as print books and I stay around I’ll be reading them.

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