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The 4 Secrets to Gamification



Eugene Gan - published on 09/24/13

Know these basic principles of gamification and you can apply it to anything - even to help with the new evangelization.

What do waitressing, changing baby diapers, and controlling air traffic have in common?

Give up? They are all themes of popular video games. You’d think that something as laborious, something as odious, something as serious as these wouldn’t be the subject of play, and yet all three have made it big as games. Gamification can blur the lines between work and play. That’s the wonder of gamification in action: applying game engagement principles to work-related, non-gaming tasks and making them something we voluntarily choose to do and enjoy.

So can we gamify websites and social media to boost traffic and participation? You bet. There have been enough of you who have asked me about using principles of gamification to create engaging new media websites and online social media for the Church that I have decided to write this article. But before you dive right in, if you haven’t read the first part that introduces the concept of gamification, you can still find it here.  (If you’ve already read the first part, then congratulations! You’ve earned yourself 10 points, and if you post a comment below, you can redeem the 10 points for a rosary that my family and I will pray for you. Simply let us know in your comment below to claim it!)

What I hope to do is give you key pointers about how to engage the audiences of your Church’s website or online social media by using a few fundamental principles of gamification. Keep in mind that these same principles can be applied to a host of other activities as well, including get-together games during Church functions, catechetical lessons, and youth-ministry activities, to suggest a few.

Also remember that the Catholic Church acknowledges authentic truth even when found “outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #819). In this spirit, I’ve discerningly drawn gamification principles from a variety of sources, including studies on engagement, research on social engineering, and books such as Gamification by Design, A Theory of Fun, The Play Ethic, Rules of Play, and The Art of Game Design, to name a few. I say ‘discerningly’ because if you read some of these, or listen to some of the authors’ presentations, you too might discern an underlying framework that is antithetical to the foundation of human dignity and freedom. My concerns about some of these texts and presentations include a leaning toward relativism, a focus on engagement without balancing the specter of addiction, as well as an over-emphasis on extrinsic motivation coupled with recommendations for organizations to accept the “fact” that intrinsic motivation is dead. In other words, it’s all about winning some reward rather than about doing what’s right because I choose to do what’s right. It’s a pity, too, since many principles of gamification can be forces for good, but there is currently no concerted effort to honestly discern them.

And one last caveat: to be clear, this is not about gaming some system, or about “winning converts,” or about the Church getting large numbers of people so it can “fill its coffers” (as one reader put it in a recent TIME magazine letter to the editor following a blurb about the Holy Father, Pope Francis). While God certainly loves us so much that he hopes for all his children to come home to him, he is more interested in hearts that lovingly and joyfully respond to the reality that we are his adopted children – and act that way – than to large numbers who “worship with their mouths only” (Isaiah 29:13, Matt. 15:8; as is also evident in how God allowed Israel, our spiritual forefathers, to be purified during the various exiles, whittling away at the numbers till there was a remnant of true and faithful souls, e.g., 2 Kings 19:31, 2 Chronicles 30:6, Isaiah 10:20).

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