When Perspectives Collide: Bringing Together Game Studies and HCI

At the recent DiGRA conference in Hilversum, a few of us organised a session on gamification, titled Gamification: A roundtable on game studies and HCI perspectives. Our intention was to bring together perspectives we had gleaned from the CHI workshop on gamification in May with perspectives from the game studies community. Below are the slides of our introductory presentation.

We then entered the roundtable discussion with the audience and three respondents (Brian Winn, Helen Kennedy, and Alessandro Canossa), where we asked the following questions:

What is new and valuable in the HCI perspective? What is missing?

Various audience members indicated that they were both appreciative of the depth and breadth of gamification-related research taking place within an HCI context, but also surprised that this work was being conducted, which implicitly indicated a lack of strong connection between the communities. This inevitably led to discussions of disciplinary divides, but some participants also pointed out that game studies and HCI have a history of “raiding” one another, for example, in terms of methodologies, frameworks, and so on. There was general consensus around the idea that it was important to bring together diverse perspectives in researching gamification.

In terms of “what is missing”, various audience members suggested that gamification was being adopted as a turnkey solution for producing manipulation. Some participants called for more explicit investigation of gamification from a behaviour change perspective, and thought that “deep” behaviour change was not being achieved with current trends in gamification design.

Others asked whether we should be focusing on designing artifacts or on designing experiences. In particular, they called for more use of sociological lenses in researching gamification, in which people’s lives, social practices, values, and ethics could be taken into account. These participants proposed that gamification is currently being examined at an application layer, even though it operates at a larger social layer, and that we would benefit from exploring gamification from the context of the larger social layer.

In a different vein, one participant suggested that a focus on aesthetics was missing.

How have these phenomena appeared and been approached in past game studies?

The conversation quickly turned towards the notion of bridging the disciplinary divide, and whether the definition we proposed should be used to draw together connections between the fields. Some noted that it was nice to have a unified way and language for discussing these concepts, while others suggested that having fuzzy borders between the disciplines was a benefit.

One participant then stated that there was something bigger at stake than simply turf wars, and that understanding gamification would be fruitful for game studies, HCI, and other disciplines. He proposed that gamification was at risk of becoming a pure form of consumer-led behaviourism. The mention of the term “behaviourism” led some to bring up one of the more latent concerns within game studies, namely, that game designers (and game studies researchers) are generally opposed to being perceived as behaviourists, yet games for change and serious games are often focused specifically on behaviour change. So in excluding a view of gamification that could be perceived as behaviourism there was a risk of excluding certain branches of serious games.

One response from the audience was that if gamification as behaviourism was problematic for ethical reasons, we could still stand to learn something from it – just as there is value in learning about games deemed as unethical.

Another participant suggested that perhaps we could draw differences between applications that focused on intrinsic or extrinsic motivations, as current applications seem to focus more heavily on the latter.

The discussion was lively enough that our session ended up running over time. But this wasn’t for the reasons that we had originally anticipated, i.e. that DiGRA folks would find gamification problematic as a concept. Instead, we encountered an audience who were interested in how CHI community members were investigating gamification, who seemed open to situating it within game studies, and who had ideas about how to usefully explore it further.