The Gamification of Books: Good Idea, or Bad?
February 26, 2013 | 11:00 am
By Joanna Cabot
There was an interesting article in yesterday’s Morning Links about the ‘gamification’ of books. I had first heard this term in response to the Reading Life feature on the Kobo platform, which awards you ‘badges’ for such activities as reading at a certain time in the day, reading a certain number of books, using a dictionary or bookmark feature, and so on. But this article was coming at it from a different aspect: using the ‘concept of game mechanics’ to ‘pull the reader through a book.’
Jeremy Greenfield of Digital Book World, the article’s author, suggests applying these strategies to children’s titles as a form of ‘cheese/broccoli’ motivation—just as kids will eat their vegetables more easily if you dress them up with fancy toppings, so too does he suppose they’ll read more books if it’s turned into a game.
At the time, I scoffed a little at this idea. As an educator, I bristle at the notion that everything has to be fun. I do try and make my classes as engaging and ‘fun’ as I can, but sometimes one does just have to knuckle down and do something less-fun but important. But then I came across a book—oriented to adults—that unwittingly employs the ‘gamification’ strategy, and now I’m wondering if there might be more to this idea than I thought.
The book is Slim for Life by Jillian Michaels; I’m a fan of hers (more for her workout DVDs and her excellent podcast than for her work on The Biggest Loser per se), and put this on reserve at the library as soon as is become available. The e-book is almost $15, which is too rich for my blood!
Anyway, the book has a somewhat unusual format. Each chapter is focused on a certain life area (diet, fitness, lifestyle and so on), as in her previous weight-loss books. However, the information is not presented narrative-style. Rather, it’s presented as a series of short, succinct little ‘tips,’ each of which has been assigned a point value based on how important Michaels thinks it will be for your success on the program. Tips worth three points are the most important, and you should try to do them all. Tips worth two points are good, solid suggestions that you should do if they work for your lifestyle. Tips worth one point will give you a boost if you need help in a certain area.
That’s the short version, anyway—chapter eight, which I haven’t gotten to yet, promises a more customized prescription based on one’s score for every topical chapter. I’m guessing that’s where she’ll send me back to the one- or two-point tips I flagged as a ‘maybe’ on first read.
And the beautiful part is, the e-book actually makes following the plan way easier. I can highlight or bookmark the tips I plan to follow, keep a checklist in Wunderlist as I read for stuff I need to get or do, tabulate my points as I go in a Google Spreadsheet. And thanks to the wonders of cloud syncing, all of it—the book and the bookmarks and the to-dos—can be available to me across every device I use. It actually transforms what would just be plain ol’ reading into a dynamic, task-oriented action plan. It totally works for this type of book. And, I have to admit, the ‘fun’ aspect of keeping the points and adding to my score as I read does keep me going through the occasional dry science part.
I’m not saying that ‘gamification’ is necessary or appropriate for every book in the world. Certainly, I would hesitate to see it applied to a book just because it’s for children, as a cheese/broccoli scenario, the way Greenfield describes. But for the type of book Michaels wrote, it works, and well.
I’m not sure I’d like to see this gimmick being over-used. But it just goes to show that, as in all aspects of book publishing these days, there is no holy grail, no formula that works for every situation as the recognized best and only way.
Some books may benefit from a strategy like this one. Others might be more suited for different narrative hooks and marketing schemes. It never hurts to think outside the box, though, and bring something different to the table.