Research diary for my Master thesis project: From Efficiency to Engagement: Game Dynamics on the Social Web. Tim Koch-Grünberg, Aveiro, Portugal.
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Quarta-feira, 27 de Outubro de 2010
Dissertation project: influent authors

Our research advisor asked us to identify three authors which are important or influent in our research domain. My project is about gamification of the social web, so what do we have here? Games, Play and Game Design, on one side, and social web, online communities, computer supported cooperative work and social interaction, on the other. Tying the two together are the emerging domains of gamification and social games. Instead of listing three authors in general, I'll list a few authors for each major domain.


Games, Play and Game Design

The traditional scholars of Play and Games in human culture are Johan Huizinga, with his seminal work Homo Ludens, and Roger Caillois, author of Man, Play and Games. I could cite more authors concerned with play and games predating videogames (Sutton-Smith, Suits, etc.), but I'll have to draw the line somewhere. These are foundational, so we can't let them out.

Jesper Juul did a great job of analyzing traditional definitions and theories about games in the light of modern videogame culture. His work got published in the book Half-Real, and any modern discussion about games in general and videogames in particular isn't complete without reference to his work. More recently, he wrote on the rise of casual games, A Casual Revolution. Understanding the rise of casual games allows us to see through impressive graphics and immersive worlds to see what it is about "simple" games that makes them so desirable for non-gamers and gamers alike.

Recently, I came into contact with Aki Järvinen's doctoral dissertation, Games Without Frontiers. He developed an interesting theory of player motivation and behaviour, which resides upon his analysis of game elements. So I'll include him as an author of importance concerning games in general, because in order to put his theories of player behaviour into context, I'll have to read his analysis of games in general. (Järvinen is a major thinker and practicioner in the industry of Social Games, which we'll talk about in a moment.)

So much for game studies. Seminal works in the theory of game design (written by active game designers) were Chris Crawford's The Art of Computer Game Design, published in 1982 and re-published in altered form in 2003 under the title Chris Crawford on Game Design, and Greg Costikyan's article I Have No Words and I Must Design, written in 1992, re-written in 2002. More recently, Jesse Schell's book The Art of Game Design is on its way to become a favorite in the industry because of its writing, which manages to be deep and accessible at the same time. This no-nonsense book is light on academic theory, but rich on insight and understanding of games. Another important work in modern game design bibliography is Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman's Rules of Play, published in 2003.


The Social Web

The expansion of the web into our everyday life isn't happening right now - it already happened. How did the web evolve from static HTML homepages from the 90's to modern cross-device social experiences? Why do people like to get together on the web? How do we use the web? What do we use it for? Questions upon questions...

If we want to understand the history of the web, maybe we should start at the beginning: Tim Berners-Lee's 1989 paper submitted at the CERN, Information Management: A Proposal. But wait - Berners-Lee didn't invent hypertext. Ted Nelson's utopian idea of project Xanadu is worth a look, as is Vannevar Bush's influent paper from 1945, As We May Think. Since we are at the beginning of computing, why not look at Doug Engelbart's work, which led to the oN-Line System and Xerox Star Computer system. This little exploration leaves us at the beginning of the GUI. Where do we go from here? Expansion of the personal computer, IBM, Microsoft vs Apple. Back to the 90's.

Why and how did the Internet and the Web transform our society? Castells to the rescue! The Rise of the Network Society will shed some light on the major economical and social transformations of our modern information age.

So the web is everywhere. What do people do on it? They communicate! They form communities! They want to be on social networking sites! Howard Rheingold, Amy Jo Kim, Jenny Preece - all important authors, allthough somewhat academic. On the industry side, we have Joshua Porter writing an interesting book and the folks from Yahoo! doing the same. Oh, and we can't forget Tim O'Reilly's article that sparked the idea of Web 2.0. And Danah Boyd (who apparently insists on writing her name in lowercase, don't ask me why) writing academic papers about SNSs (social networking sites).

In 2010, we can't talk about the web without talking about the mobile web. What was once a little brother to thre "real web", with own (weaker) standards and protocols, has grown into one of the fastest growing communication technologies known in history. A good overview of recent developments is to be found in Morgan Stanley's Mobile Internet Report Key Themes. For statistics, I'll go for the The Pew Internet & American Life Research Reports, for example Social Media and Mobile Internet Use among Teens and Young Adults.


Social Games

After looking at games and social networks, we'll have to look at somethig that is uniting them: games that use your social relations on the web as a game element. Social Games. Yes, I'm talking about Farmville and its brethren. One simply cannot ignore 83 million monthly active users. What's the thing about social games that makes them so effective? Well, everybody likes (casual) games, and everybody is on the web weaving social ties. So social games are a logical progression, riding on the wave of two incredibly strong developments. Synergy, baby!

Recently Sebastian Deterging published a workshop report held at Games Convention Leipzig 2010, where he invited top researchers to talk about social games. This report is probably the most complete and up-to-date document about academic and industry research into Social Games.

Aki Järvinen comes to mind again, with his paper Game Design for Social Networks. Although included in Sebastian Deterding's workshop report, his ideas on social game design are worth pointing out individually.



So, finally, we get to the main point: imbuing an application on the social web with game-like qualities to make it more engaging. Gamification. This term is the web's new favourite buzzword, and most of the talk about gamification is total bull*hit. Why? Because you can't just make anything into a game. A game, by (various) definition(s), is an activity you take part in voluntarily and which occurs in a sort of "separate dimension" from reality. What most of the examples of "gamification" currently in the making are, is copying motivation and reward mechanisms from games and paste them unto other products,  services and even work environments. That doesn't make them a game. As Margaret on Hide&Seek pointed out: gamification is a great idea, but with the wrong name: it should be called pointsification.

So, where does that leave us? Gamification being either Game Design (when something really gets turned into a game), or Mindless Marketing-Speech? Maybe. I don't know. Yet. This will be something I'll have to find out during my research project. Anyway, important authors in this field are Jesse Schell, who started a major hype with his great presentation at Dice 2010, Amy Jo Kim, who is concerned about "putting the fun in functional", Gabe Zicherman, who believes that marketing can be turned into a game, the authors of Total Engagement and Changing the Game, who want to change work environments by turning them into games, and Sebastian Deterding, who is trying to wake people up and telling them that a game is a game and a reward mechanism is a reward mechanism.



Well, somehow I got more than three authors. If I had to choose just three, I would choose Aki Järvinen's thesis and papers over other game design books because of the richness of academic references; Jennifer Preece's book and papers over other authors because of the same reason, and Sebastian Deterding's Workshop Report and his presentations because of his informed point of view on the current hype.

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publicado por tim às 15:18


De lpedro a 28 de Outubro de 2010 às 12:12
Awesome, nice job!

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