[Seth] Priebatsch’s declared aim is to “build a game layer on top of the world” – which at first seems simply to mean that we should all use SCVNGR, his location-based gaming platform that allows users to compete to win rewards at restaurants, bars and cinemas on their smartphones. (You can practically hear the marketers in the room start to salivate when he mentions this.)But Priebatsch’s ideas run deeper than that, whatever the impression conveyed by his bright orange polo shirt, his bright orange-framed sunglasses, and his tendency to bounce around the stage like a wind-up children’s toy. His take on the education system, for example, is that it is a badly designed game: students compete for good grades, but lose motivation when they fail. A good game, by contrast, never makes you feel like you’ve failed: you just progress more slowly. Instead of giving bad students an F, why not start all pupils with zero points and have them strive for the high score? This kind of insight isn’t unique to the world of videogames: these are basic insights into human psychology and the role of incentives, recently repopularised in books such as Freakonomics and Nudge. But that fact, in itself, may be a symptom of the vanishing distinction between online and off – and it certainly doesn’t make it wrong.
Note the covert assumption here that, while we can totally reconfigure how we evaluate student performance, we can’t think of it as anything but “performance,” and we can’t resist the student tendency to think in terms of competition for grades or professorial approval.In this case I think gamification would simply make a fundamentally unhealthy, counterproductive way of thinking somewhat more fun — at least for those who thrive on competition. (For those who dislike competition, and there are more such people than is commonly realized, it would just make things worse.) I’d rather see if we can re-think our educational system to limit or channel the ethos of competition — which, I grant, would be much harder than game-ifying it.