Can you imagine the world as a game? RMIT’s Associate Professor Steffen Walz explains in his new book how gamification is infiltrating reality and how play is becoming serious business.
Four years ago, Associate Professor Walz was one of the first Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellows appointed at RMIT.
His recently released book The Gameful World (MIT Press, 2015) is what he likes to call his “mission complete”.
After tirelessly commuting between Germany and Australia as Director of the RMIT Games and Experimental Entertainment Laboratory (GEElab) – which is based in Melbourne and Karlsruhe – he is concluding his fellowship with this in-depth publication on his greatest passion.
“Gamification is essentially about how game elements and systems are being intertwined with daily life,” he says.
“Incentives, points and competition, these are all major components of games that have been borrowed and reconstructed to fit into the practice of the digital every day.”
Dissecting how people interact with and benefit from this cultural phenomenon is one of the prime pillars of The Gameful World, edited by Associate Professor Walz and GEElab Fellow Dr Sebastian Deterding.
The book, which features more than 50 luminaries from academia and industry examining the key challenges and benefits of gamification, has been described by Google’s Director of User Experience Elizabeth Churchill as “an essential resource” and the “go-to volume for rhetorics and debates on game mechanics in interaction programming”.
The Gameful World looks at how games and game design are infiltrating every aspect of contemporary culture - from business to banking; human resources to health; marketing and sustainability; education to citizen science.
“If you think about your Fitbit bracelet or fitness apps like Nike+, where you can see your friends’ phantom running routes, it isn’t just exercise anymore. It’s been revolutionised into a competition,” Associate Professor Walz says.
Computers and games have had a very intricate co-evolution, he says, and advances in smartphones and tablets have encouraged this progression.
“Computers are distributed widely these days alongside smart phones in our pockets, and computers are the perfect platform because they are rule-based systems, and games are nothing else but that,” he says.
Game design and play for human and societal benefit is an important objective of RMIT’s GEElab, which takes on projects across a range of sectors including education, training and health.
Current projects include health games to tackle lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, with the lab’s researchers creating, researching and testing the games with users.
The point of games and play, he says, is to empower and energise society and individuals.
“It’s not to just to make them feel better about what they are doing, but to give them a sense of mastery and in a way control,” he says.
Associate Professor Walz is passionate that games have the capacity to change and potentially provide answers to some of society’s toughest challenges, but there are issues with companies exploiting the benefits.
The Gaming World also delves into the possible “dystopian” or negative outcomes of gamification, highlighting concerns around game integration into marketing and the collection of data.
In marketing, Associate Professor Walz explains, digital loyalty programs and sweepstakes are built around customer engagement like checking into a store, or sharing and liking posts of brands on social media platforms.
“Think about your Woolworths rewards card when you go shopping or the amount of likes you get on a Facebook photo,” he says.
"You’re getting a reward for everything, just like a game. Algorithms govern the world and the data for checking or liking posts is monitored, measured and rewarded.
“But if these organisations or corporations are incentivising certain behaviour using gaming elements, then human behaviour is being moulded by software.
“As a society, we have to decide what behaviours are the ones we want to exist.”
Associate Professor Walz will speak about gamification and The Gameful World at a special event organised by Deloitte Centre for the Edge Australia on Thursday 2 April.
In the workshop, “How to Play in the Gameful World: Designing For Motivation, Engagement and Behaviour Change”, he will discuss the interpenetration of games and everyday life, with a focus on its potential to help innovate and energise organisations, products, services, along with its pitfalls.
Audience members will have the opportunity to participate and collaborate in a prototypical, playful design workshop, where they will also receive a copy of the book.
The event will be opened by Pete Williams, Deloitte Centre for the Edge Australia's Chief Edge Officer, who features in The Gameful World.