Thursday, July 10, 2014

Movie Reviews: The Fault in Our Stars, Edge of Tomorrow, ...

The Fault in Our Stars: There are movies, especially young adult movies, that, after watching them, I immediately want to find and read the book. This is not one of those movies.

Girl with cancer (she drags an oxygen tank around with her) meets boy with cancer (he has already lost a leg) and his friend (who is going blind). Will their personal demons and illnesses allow them to find happiness?

TFiOS is a decent movie, but it's by no means great. The acting is fine and it's poignant. The characters are flat, but not unbearably unrealistic, though the script doesn't reveal enough about them to tell. Mostly they are just too good and perky. The exception is the one character who is drunk and mean.

It was all so flat, neat, and uncomplicated that it was hard to get into. The only really true moment was in the denouement when our heroine faced the mean guy and, rather than resolve anything with him, left the situation unresolved and messy. That was real, and thus involving.

The directing was ok ... maybe; the movie was cloying and highly sentimental (too much lingering on smiles and tears and long sentences of young love with beautiful characters). And really, the whole thing was fairly predictable. Even if the movie didn't so closely follow My Sister's Keeper, it was obvious who was going to die and when. But the movie shies away even from that; it just passes over it: "And eight days later [character] died and so I went to [character]'s funeral".

The freedom given to the two characters to travel on an airplane with an oxygen tank and with the likelihood of spontaneous lung collapse seemed far fetched, as did them walking around Amsterdam alone and drunk or unescorted into the house of a strange man (they don't speak Dutch). My biggest problem is that the Holocaust is used as a metaphor for the character's personal battle with cancer, and the Anne Frank House is used as the backdrop for a romantic meeting between the two main characters. Both of which were offensive.

Edge of Tomorrow: EoT gives us (unfortunately) a whole lot of Tom Cruise, who, while capable of action sequences, seems to hog the camera in any action movie in which he appears. Every one of his action movies is: Tom grunts, Tom runs, Tom fights, Tom falls, Tom grins, etc etc, and every one of his performances is exactly the same as every other one. He portrays no actual personality other than his own. This is unfortunate, since he promisingly gave us a good many real characters at the start of his career in films like The Color of Money, Born on the Fourth of July, Risky Business, Rain Man, and others. I am very bored of Tom Cruise as Tom Cruise.

EoT also (fortunately) gives us another spunky female action protagonist, Emily Blunt, in a role that departs from her usual choices. She doesn't have much more personality than Tom does, but at least that's a refreshing change for her.

Earth has been invaded by incredibly prescient and tenacious aliens who are rapidly going to kill all humans. One woman was suddenly able to kill 300 baddies in a battle, and, spurred on by her success, humans are grouping for a final battle. A guy who has been helping on the media side is suddenly thrust into the attack force against his will, only a day after landing in basic training against his will. He dies quickly, but reawakens at the start of basic training again and lives the day over, and over, etc. He has to find out why, and what he can do to win the war.

People have compared this to Groundhog Day, but really it is more like Source Code, since it is not so much about personal redemption but about getting thrown repeatedly into an unwanted violent situation.

The action is about the same as other recent sci fi flicks, but the story is kind of interesting. It seemed to me that there were a whole lot of holes in the plot, or perhaps explanations left out of the source material. A quick perusal online after watching the film thankfully pointed to the latter, and really it wasn't too bad (not like a lot of other recent crappy showings like Elysium and Oblivion). And I concede that, notwithstanding what I wrote above, Tom's one dimensional character transforms over the course of the movie (from a ditz to a soldier).

Directing and effects are good. Can't say it's important, but it's entertaining for a popcorn movie.

We Bought a Zoo: A movie I saw on the plane back from the US, this is a light kids movie. A guy who misses his wife, together with his kids who miss their mother, leave their job and social circle and move to a house on which property is also a large dilapidated safari like zoo. The zoo comes with a variety of employees paid by the state (or they were, anyway). The zoo is in danger of being shut down unless it is brought up to code. The head keeper is a cute woman, who initially crosses heads with the guy, but of course, eventually ...

The son has issues, and these also have to be worked out, between son and father, and between son and one of the employees who is, coincidentally, a girl about his age. They initially cross heads, but of course, eventually ...

And will the zoo succeed or be closed by the overzealous and critical zoo inspector before it can open and make money?

Right. We don't even get to see much of the animals. Cameron Crowe has made some amazing movies; this one is kind of dull.

Adult World: I watched this because I thought "How bad can a John Cusack movie be?" Well, it wouldn't have been a bad movie if it were a John Cusack movie, i.e. if the movie had focused on the Cusack character and his struggles and transformations. But it wasn't and didn't. Instead, the movie focused on this twerp of a young adult woman who majored in poetry and is so insipidly unworldly, and so boneheadedly childish, that it was painful to watch. She refuses to do anything useful except spend money entering poetry competitions and submissions to poetry journals, and she runs away from home after being called childish. Eventually she lands a job at an adult store, whose seediness is entirely glossed over and instead is populated and frequented by colorful characters.

The movie makes a whole lot of bad decisions. It starts you with her staging her suicide, which she does in the hopes of being made famous after her death like Sylvia Plath; mid-scene we flash back a year. There is so much wrong with that opening scene that it is hard to know where to begin. There follows many more scenes that don't work, including one where she stalks and forces her way into her favorite author's house (he happens to live nearby), and he takes her on as a maid and protege instead of calling the police. I got about halfway through and gave up, totally uninterested at making it back to the opening scene and the obvious self-realization she will surely attain in order to have a happy ending.

In truth, any one of the other characters would have made a more enjoyable focus.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Save or Enslave the World: Takeaways from #gsummit 2014, the Gamification Conference

GSummit SF 2014 was a gamification conference organized and run by Gabe Zicherman and his cohorts at Dopamine,, and Livecube.

Why I Went

I went to the conference to a) understand the disconnect between what the theorists write, what gamification companies present, and what real companies implement, and b) find out what I could contribute to the gamification world, either as a writer, an employee, or a consultant.

Gamification companies present basic, or even bad, game mechanics as implementation examples and in their turnkey products. Often there is no relation between their implementations and the motivational psychology that they espouse. The papers, articles, websites, case studies, and books on gamification present some good information about psychology and motivation, but they present gamification systems with only basic game mechanics. Simply adding points, badges, missions, and leaderboards to a process doesn't make a good game, let alone a more motivational process. Some case studies mention more complex mechanics but leave out the complex implementation details.

A small number of gamification critics who present more comprehensive motivation models are entering the gamification business. Their gamification implementations are allegedly constructed to match their motivational principles, but these implementations still lack the rich potential of complex game mechanics developed in the last forty years. Their systems are still built around an endless parade of points, badges, missions, and leaderboards abstracted from games like World of Warcraft, Farmville, and Second Life. This is akin to watching publisher after publisher espouse the rich potential of board games and then release an endless stream of games based on Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit.

What I Found (Overview)

The con was held in downtown San Francisco in a sketchy, treeless neighborhood that hosts Zynga and other trendy companies in posh buildings half a block from drug dealers and the ramshackle homeless. I estimate that around 300 people attended. Except for some audio problems, it went smoothly.

Every company with a remote connection to any definition of gamification thinks that theirs is the only correct one: they define what gamification is, they present an implementation that conforms to the definition, and then they mention case studies that have little to do with their definition. Companies that promote straight gamification were present together with those who promote play gamification, each one presenting evidence that the other ones didn't know what they were talking about.

When you carefully look at the numbers presented by these companies, few point to a challenge that was properly defined and solved using gamification. They throw out percentage increases in a metric that has little to do with the actual problem. For instance, they might say that a particular system was used by 98% of a group of people. Were these people forced to use the system? What was the net effect in those participants compared to those who didn't use the system? What was the net ROI for the company or the participants? Also, they don't present the implementations that didn't work.

Researchers on standard motivational theory, as well as companies that had nothing to do with gamification, such as purveyors of rewards, gift cards, and loyalty programs, were there. The new gamification companies presented evidence that old-school methodologies don’t work or never worked, while the old loyalty companies trotted out case studies and evidence proving that they work perfectly.

Loyalty programs, customer management, data collection, location tracking, rewards, and manipulation techniques are black hat motivation techniques (getting consumers to do what you want, or playing on consumers’ fears) and these sessions were depressing. Many sessions were sales pitches for services or books; their claims and evidence presented were directly contradictory: loyalty programs worked; loyalty programs didn't work. Don’t design for games or fun, design for engagement; you can’t design for engagement without games and fun. Rewards work amazingly well; rewards actually demotivate.

Sessions from companies or organizations that had implemented systems (straight gamification, play gamification, gameful design, or playification) described how they achieved buy-in from their organization, what were the results, and what they plan to do next. These sessions were the most helpful; they tended to be more honest than the vendors who sell gamification platforms, and in some cases they described the implementations that didn't work.

What I Heard (Details)

Rather than present the contents of each session, I will present what I learned by topic [with my comments].


While gamification tokens (points, etc) are extrinsic “rewards” awarded after completing a task, an argument was presented that gamification increases intrinsic motivation by orienting you to do tasks that you will find rewarding. Some said that there is no fine line between the two, and most motivation is a complex combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

Intrinsic motivation can trump rewards or threats of punishment. For example, if you are threatened about submitting a report late, you might still submit it late because you want it to be just right. Threats (an external demotivator) actually increase intrinsic motivation that can remain after the threat is removed.

One robust theory on motivation (Octalysis) includes eight parameters: 1) meaning (purpose), 2) accomplishment (mastery, competence), 3) empowerment (autonomy), 4) ownership (acquisition), 5) social influence (relatedness), 6) scarcity (limited awards, rankings), 7) unpredictability (random awards, exploration), and 8) avoidance (loss, opportunity cost). Some of these parameters are extrinsic and some are intrinsic; some are white hat (positive) and some are black hat (negative).

As the ease of performing a task increases, the required motivation to do it decreases. If a trigger to do a task falls under this curve, the act is not performed; above the curve, the act is performed. In any case, a trigger is needed (you may be motivated and able to exercise but forget to set your alarm). Every action is measured independently: the same action may require more or less motivation as it becomes easier or harder (or the motivation changes in some way). So you have to decide between managing the motivation, making the task easier, or providing a trigger.

The methods you use should depend on whether you want the task done once, over a period of time, or long term, and whether you are asking the person to perform a new action, repeat an action done before, change an action, do an action less, or stop doing an action.

Different gamification techniques are more effective at different points; this makes sense due to flow theory. Points are easy to acquire, so they are short term; reputation is more challenging to acquire, so it is long term, and it is also harder to game. Ramp up the processes and switch people to long term focused systems as they gain familiarity.

Happiness is short term and transient. Purpose, which may include short term unhappiness (struggle, challenge), is long term and sustained. The chemicals dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphin make us happy, but they each have a different trigger. Dopamine: anticipating rewards. Oxytocin: bonding socially. Serotonin: feeling pride.

There are different types of fun, including hard fun (challenges), easy fun (exploration), people fun (social), and serious fun (purpose). [This correlates – kind of – to Bartle's four gamer types.]

A special note about Rajat Paharia on BunchBalls' philosophy: there is no place for game deign or fun in gamification; it is all about engagement. His philosophy makes zero sense [it's engaging because it is fun and designed well!], but it's (I hope) mostly a matter of terminology and the fact that he presents his product as black hat gamification. Several companies are using BunchBall's turnkey system.

Black Hat Motivation

Rewards: A big prize (like the XPrize) focuses effort and legitimizes the time spent working towards that goal. It motivates disparate teams to accomplish things outside of companies. The cash value, above a certain amount, is not relevant, since the research results, interesting nature of the challenge, and community built during the process is rewarding to the participants. This allows you to get people to do more while spending less.

People also love lotteries and unearned coupons, which are prizes offered for no challenge.

However, rewards signify the end of a process, while business motivation must remain indefinitely.

Tracking: The Internet of Things will enable locators in billions of objects that can track people by their smartphones (or other devices). You can use exact data about people’s movements throughout a store – you can even use hidden cameras that capture their facial expressions while they interact with certain products – to gain insight on how to sell to them.

Subversion: People are entrenched against persuasion from people they oppose. You can influence their behavior more readily by using people in their own camp or people whose opinion they respect. Exploit social behavior: tell people stories while pitching to them, and use human interest and their friends.
Channeling: People are less likely to opt out than to opt in. Provide wizards. Show empty areas that need filling or populate things by default. Consider page scanning on websites and thumb reach on devices for elements you want clicked. Reduce choices, chunk, block options, block sites with popups, guilt people to not choose undesired options or make them unattractive, hide escape links, and disclose only what is necessary. People think that presented choices are valid choices: this makes them feel smart and valued, which is more effective than rewards. Make your site look credible.

White Hat Motivation

Companies that focus on making virtual things more real (like the big game companies) are ignoring the market for making real things more virtual. [The speaker ignored companies that do ARGs and other pervasive gaming. However, gamification needs more and better game designers creating better gamification techniques.]

Gamification provides a means for people to reach their goals; your company’s goals should align with people’s goals. Collaboration is better than competition. Have people compete with a system, not each other, win or lose together, interact with shared but different responsibilities and resources, and allow for user-generated and emergent features.

Gamification fights boredom. Companies in the entertainment and food industries have been attacking consumer boredom for ages, and there is no reason why we shouldn't do so in the business world for employee boredom. Motivated workers are more productive and their work is better quality. Games can provide holistic experiences that model complex systems. Emergent behavior can produce viable solutions [like in Ender's Game]. Gamification systems must include ROI, understand the learning and pain points, and consider the genre and platform.

Most disruptive technologies provide people with better means of communication. MyFitnessPal has trounced Weight Watchers in a short time because it uses effortless peer-to-peer communication. Education can be similarly disrupted. [I’m not sure that this is absolute, since apps require self-motivation without a trigger, as opposed to coaches and teachers. Not everyone is motivated by their peers!]

Case Studies

IBM created a rich and complex series of gamification processes that includes training and brainstorming. They consider it to be very successful. See Serious Games for Business.

T-Mobile is gamifying 38,000 call center workers, but balancing the rewards is very tricky, since people do what gives them a reward regardless of whether it is the best thing for the customer. If you reward quickness, customers get hung up on. If you reward no return calls within X time (a short time), workers give “solutions” that delay the return call. Etc. Groups in different locations and cultures respond to different rewards, mechanics, and structures.

Applebee's (RMH Franchise Corp) introduced a straight gamification system with no rewards. It reduced a 130% employee turnover rate by about 20% in a year. They plan to add status rewards, such as a special colored jacket for best performing employees.

Wikipedia and Delta Airlines presented gamified training programs, but it was difficult to see if these made any real substantive difference to their bottom line. The people who took the gamified training programs liked them and were trained.

The Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy gamified its scrum (agile software development) program. All of its participants were student game designers. The gamification included a full D&D-like experience played on a whiteboard with moving Post-It Note characters, earned equipment, etc. One goal was to increase the accuracy of time estimations; this also had the side effect of making people more familiar with teammates' work items. Another goal was to reward showing up for scrum meetings. The system worked for one group that had a supportive leader, but not for another whose participants saw it as additional busy work.

Gabe Zicherman led us in a workshop. We had to come up with ideas to solve a problem, including voting on the best solutions. It was "gamified" because a) we voted on the best solution, so there were points awarded (kind of), and b) he gave a prize, a t-shirt, to the winning team's solution. [In my book, it was an example of a non-gamified task nearly destroyed by an incredibly sucky game. We were already motivated to come up with a solution; the "award" of a t-shirt was actually demotivating.]


Jane McGonigal said that a controlled study now proves the efficacy of Superbetter. Superbetter's effects can change your life even if you stop playing it after six weeks. Games of any kind help with real world problems; for example, playing Tetris for 10 minutes within 6 hours of a trauma can help reduce PTSD. People find this weird, though they wouldn't find it weird if the activity was meditation or prayer; games still make people uneasy. 10 minutes of games also help push out other drives, like overeating or the desire for alcohol.

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s talk was interrupted frequently by microphone problems. He is a dynamic and funny speaker. He talked about how science is becoming mainstream, with examples from pop culture. He also briefly mentioned gamifying science using crowdsourcing.

Adopting Gamification in Your Company

Here are some steps that you can use to bring gamification to your company:

  • Create a business case. Find other companies in your sector who use gamification, especially competitors.
  • Shamelessly promote the idea of gamification until people are used to the idea and agree to a pilot project to see if it works.
  • Identify the specific problems you want to solve. Take the time to do a proper survey.
  • Ensure that gamification is the right solution. For example, gamification is great at providing immediate and progressive feedback, and at clarifying complicated procedures, making them less threatening and more likely to be completed.
  • Estimate the ROI. Define the metrics that define success or progress.
  • Find a champion for the pilot. Find coworkers willing to give time to the project, especially gamers who believe in the idea. For future projects, ensure that you’re not the only champion, or you will become a bottleneck and it will fall apart when you’re not around.
  • Ensure that there is someone leading the process, so that people don’t become lost.
  • Use outside solutions if they make sense and it simplifies things.
  • Define desired actions and how they report the metrics.
  • Design for different types of players.
  • Create seamless, non-intrusive flow for discovery (finding out about the system) and onboarding (first steps to use the system), habit building (becoming comfortable with the system in the short term) and mastery (continued relevance in the long term).
  • Reward people for using the system, since it is saving time and money elsewhere.
  • Integrate gamification into many parts of the company (the whole flow, if possible). It should become a natural part of business.
  • Keep the system fresh; games become stale so a gamification system requires constant input of fresh ideas. It may not be suitable for all people.
  • [I will add: Provide autonomy so that people don’t feel like they are forced to do things they don’t want to do. Provide purpose: the reason they’re doing this, and the benefits for the company or for the world, whichever is relevant.]


Before, during, and after the conference, I also met or talked to professionals who didn't attend the conference but who work in motivation, games, or both. They say that gamification is a meaningless buzzword, a con, or nonsense (they used less polite phrases). I think that their complaints were aimed at straight gamification and the companies that sell it.

When you consider play gamification, the gamification is a tiny part of it. In the same way that Dan Pink didn't really add much to self-determination theory, but his simplifying and popularizing it added a great deal of value, gamification simplifies and popularizes playification, which may not be too bad.

Gamification proponents call points "rewards", and critics rightly point out that points are not rewards. A game where you click a button and get a million points isn't rewarding. Minesweeper gives you a point every second, but your object is to get the least amount of points; are these points rewards? People don’t run a 100 meter dash for the points, but for the intrinsic value of the race. But not so fast. The critics are not entirely correct. When a person runs all out and sees the numbers, the numbers matter; they focus the runner and provide a goal to achieve. I admit that, despite the inanity of the conference's gamified chat system (Livecube; see below), whenever my points closed in on a round hundred (500, 600, etc), I was motivated to post a few more times just to see the number roll over that hundred mark. After it did, I no longer cared one whit about my number if it was not attached to a real reward, and the additional posts I wrote to increase my score were valueless. Still, point-driven motivation does exist, at least in the very short term.

I went to the conference to a) understand the disconnect between what the theorists write, what gamification companies present, and what companies implement, and b) find out what I could contribute to the gamification world, either as a writer, an employee, or a consultant.

A) The disconnect exists because there is no clear definition of gamification, companies are still carving out a space, and as a result they disagree on what works. The long term results are inconclusive, but they are also promising for certain types of goals, especially for training and cooperation.

B) A game designer has experience with the application of hundreds of mechanics that could be used in gamification systems but currently are not. To give you an idea, consider what a game designer could do with “points” (this is off the top of my head):

  • Points that are positive, negative (used sparingly!), themed, tradeable, or assigned only collectively
  • Multiple point tracks, for example green points, blue points, and red points. The biggest problem with black hat gamification is that it reduces autonomy (by incentivizing some tasks and deincentivizing others); by allowing participants to select among multiple point options, you add autonomy back into the process. In any case, different point structures are required for different positions in the company (you can’t use the same point structure for call center workers and IT personnel).
  • Goals based on different point tracks and levels, with badges earned either by concentrating more on one track or diversifying between tracks.
  • Participant created goals and levels, thus establishing point goals that work for each participant (see flow theory)
  • Additional factors to earning points. For example, if tasks are completed in a certain time, in a certain order, or with a certain buy-in, they scale upwards or include residual effects.
  • Limited replenishing points that can only be assigned to others.
  • A rich set of point redemption packets that utilize different point combinations, as well as a series of redemption missions (redeem A to acquire B or C, redeem C or D to acquire F).
  • Ensuring that play and mastery is part of the system, and not just more work for virtual rewards.
  • Most importantly, ensuring that points encourage people to do things that they already want to do, not things they will regret, feel tricked into, or come to regard as busy work.


A final word about Livecube, the conference chat system designed by the guys who ran the conference.

Livecube presents chat rooms for sessions and lists of speakers and sessions, and also integrates with Twitter. It includes a gamification system that awards points for posting (more for posting pictures), reposting, favoriting, getting reposted, and checking into and rating sessions. I appreciate the chat rooms, though a real chat system works just as well. As it stands, its gamification system is a disaster. Leaderboards kill the motivation of anyone but the leaders to post anything, and demotivate reposts (since it gives leaders more points than it gives you). The badges are worthless and repetitive. The points don’t reward any accomplishment, but inspire inane post after inane post; the result are chat sessions filled with noise instead of signal. Worst of all, encouraging people to tweet when they should be listening to a speaker is a Really Bad Idea. On the technical side, conversations are hard to follow. Limiting posts to twitter length makes many types of conversations and useful information impossible to communicate. In short, the system encapsulates everything that is criticized about gamification.

A few ideas to fix it: Remove the points and badges for things that are not actually accomplishments, such as hitting the send button. Reward a random participant each day for each session; this keeps people checked in, but not posting too frequently. Deincentivize multiple posts that are not favorited or reposted. Deincentivize posting during a lecture; incentivize for posting after the lecture (or maybe lecturers should give two minute tweet breaks during lectures). Create group incentives for teams. Remove the leaderboards; leaderboards are only appropriate for when you want only a few people to do something, not when you want everyone to do something. Create achievable missions. Create rewards for tagging people physically to foster real world social interaction. Etc.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What is Gamification? On This The Experts Disagree

Not everyone agrees on what gamification is (and this is not even considering alternative approaches that are not gamification). It is not simply a matter of definition; people talk about gamification while meaning different concepts.

I wrote a brief introduction to the three types of gamification. Now let's go a little deeper into what gamification is.

There are two main approaches:

1. Gamification is a feedback system that fosters engagement

Gamification is the application of game mechanics to non-game contexts. This either means adding fun and play to boring or unmotivating tasks – making the world a better place - or manipulating people into doing things that they might otherwise not want to do – making the world a worse place (take your pick).

People spend a massive amount of time playing multi-player online games doing what superficially seem to be unfun tasks: repetitively killing, jumping, farming, building complex virtual properties and characters, and so on. Considering the “Tom Sawyer” principle, gamification people figure that they can take the feedback systems from these games - points, badges, leaderboards, trophies, game currency, and missions - and apply them (with some customization) to many work, health, charity, etc tasks to achieve the same motivating results. The reasoning is that any boring activity becomes engaging if the context feels like a game, feedback is immediate and progressive, and competition or collaboration is leveraged.

These proponents see gamification as this:

For these proponents, the play mechanics are not that relevant. The gamification elements are all you need to make an engaging and fun system. The quest for points, or badges, or a high ranking on a leaderboard is fun, in and of itself. Play elements are just icing.

Let’s call this “straight gamification” (the term I used in my original post).

2: Gamification is a play system that includes video game elements

Gamification is a thin veneer of video game elements added onto playification. Playification is adding fun and play to boring or unmotivating tasks; gamification is adding points, badges, leaderboards, trophies, game currency, and missions as part of playification.

Adding rewards and making boring tasks more playful to motivate people is an old idea. Loyalty programs, recess, team building games, and vacation time have existed for centuries. Philosophies about reforming education and work processes to be more fun have existed for just as long. This is called playification.
Gamification systems do a lot more than just take the feedback systems from video games; they include elements that make the process more playful.

Challenging and interesting tasks make games fun, not feedback systems. Points, badges, etc, are not rewards; the fulfillment of a challenge, the ability to freely choose an activity, and relationships (to people or to a higher purpose) are the rewards. Points and badges track or reflect these rewards in some instances, but they do not motivate people. Assigning points and offering badges to non-challenging tasks is insulting and ultimately empty, and leaderboards applied haphazardly only motivate the top few people who are winning.

Gamification repackages the old idea (make work/school more playful) with a new name and a set of cookie cutter interfaces that orients people raised on video games.

Let’s call this “play gamification”.


Neither of these two are to be confused with gameful design or playification.

Gameful design is the application of either of these two gamification philosophies to user-centered tasks. In other words, tasks that a person wants to do or has to do, but wants to make more fun - making the world a better place. This is opposed to a gamification system created by companies in order to get you to do something you were not necessarily going to do, and for no real long-term benefit to you - making the world a worse place.

Playification does not require the presence or absence of game mechanics. Play gamification is one form of playification.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Shabbat in Berkeley, Back in Israel

Gamification conference post still to come. Here's the rest of my trip:

I spent shabbat in Berkeley around the synagogue Congregation Beth Israel. The area was pleasant and suburban. The shul does not arrange places for visitors to sleep (there are many every week), but they arrange meals. The couple Ruchama and Avraham Burrell took me for Friday night meal. They invite any stray travelers for shabbat meals, as they have been hosting people for over twenty years now and they consider it a life mission of sorts. Contact me for details.

Another couple hosted me for shabbat lunch. At both meals I ran into souls who had gone through, or were in the process of going through, difficult times: who had MS, who had been (in the past) homeless in San Francisco, who were estranged from their families, whose mother had recently died but who had no support network for grieving and no connection to a Jewish community (this was her first time in a synagogue). They were offered community, support, and meals.

At shul, they said psalms multiple times for the three boys who went missing and appear to have been kidnapped by Hamas.

BART took me to the airport on Sunday morning and the trip home was uneventful, which was surprising for me. Even the TSA agents who patted me down were more relaxed than the ones in Philadelphia.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Both (Aimee Mann and Ted Leo) in Concert

I saw The Both in concert at the Great American Music Hall, with the opening act Nick Diamonds (Thorburn) of Islands.

Nick Diamonds of Islands
Nick and his accompanist were interesting. He plays indie rock. It was hard to hear the lyrics because the mics were too low; the music and melodies were pleasant; they were not catchy hit songs, but they also sounded like they were not trying to be. I think his music would be best at an acoustic house concert. Nothing in the arrangements stood out, and without full access to the words, it was just ok (he also performed a number of covers).

The Both
Aimee Mann is famous for her hit song Voices Carry from the band 'Til Tuesday in the 1980s, after which she has had additional success as a solo artist (Academy and Grammy awards, though no other top ten hits).

I know less about Ted Leo, but his guitar playing was very good. The two spent a lot of time bantering and telling stories with each other and to the crowd (too much time, I thought, though they were funny). The crowd knew a number of their songs, collectively and individually. Their melodies and arrangements were exceptionally good, and their play (including a drummer) was tight. Everything they played could be a hit record. Like with Nick, the mics were low and it was hard to hear the singing; what I heard was serviceable. I'm inspired that Aimee Mann still rocks out at age 54, but she doesn't (can't?) belt it out like she once did in the above video. I was pleased she played the one song I knew during the encore.


A description of the gamification conference is in the works.

The rest of my SF trip has not been notable. Pier 39 is so over-commercialized and so touristy I would compare it to visiting a web page that contains nothing but (mostly irrelevant) splashy and shallow advertisements. Shudder. I saw some sea lions that looked depressed.

Sea lions
Chinatown is funky if you dig Chinese groceries, but similar to what I saw in Sunset. Downtown is unremarkable and has lots of homeless. The one kosher restaurant is ok but overpriced. The area I stayed in, near the freeway entrance/exit, is bare and impoverished.

The only other moment of interest was a short trip to see my friend L'vannah and her baby. She lives in a gorgeous home in San Carlos.

L'vannah and baby

The view from her backyard

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Think Your Game is Educational? Here’s How You Can Prove It

GlassLab's Evidence Centered game Design (ECgD) assessment engine can prove scientifically if your game really helps players learn [1]. Alternatively, it can help you redesign your game so that it does. That makes GlassLab’s approach to playification different: rather than construct games to provide education, they discover and elicit education from within existing games.

GlassLab’s assessment engine can be hooked into video games using an API on a variety of platforms. Players’ choices while playing the game are sent to the assessment engine, which provides multiple views into the metrics generated during each game session. Each player’s performance can then be assessed to determine if they are actually learning.

On Monday I visited Zynga’s San Francisco HQ in the company of Tamas Makany, a learning designer at GlassLab Games. GlassLab is a non-profit put together by the Institute of PlayElectronic Arts, and other entities interested in the intersection of digital games and education.

Creating the right hooks requires not only the API, but also the assistance of GlassLab's learning experts and statisticians to:
  • Identify what students are supposed to learn.
  • Construct metrics to measure that this learning process is actually taking place.
  • Identify (or create) the game mechanics that provide these metrics.
For GlassLab's own games, they also design the user interface and experience and provide assistance to teachers to help them implement the games in the classroom.

GlassLab currently has two games. The first is a modified version of SimCity called SimCityEDU that GlassLab built using the actual SimCity code under license. The game provides multiple missions that start SimCity at specific states and require students to handle specific problems, such as how to reduce carbon emissions in their city while still providing the city with sufficient power. The second game is Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy, an original game from GlassLab featuring squabbling Martians that requires players to assess whether and how much certain sentences support an argument. The Martians then simulate a debate using the players’ arguments as weapons.

Both games are built to teach lessons based on Common Core educational standards.

[1] ECgD is based on the principles of evidence centered design, a methodology that ensures that what you think is happening is really happening.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Day 3: Two San Francisco Festivals

The first was Union Street Festival. This was a festival like any other, with light entertainment, local and chain food stands, and local and chain artisans. Mostly local. What made it San Francisco, or California, was the high proportion of products and services that are new age, artisinal, fair trade, vegan, gluten-free crystal, yoga, etc. People were very supportive of "kosher", too; though much of what they sold wasn't kosher, the idea of kosher in California is apparently new-agey, like gluten-free and hand-sourced.

The second was the Haight-Ashbury Street Fair. This festival is more like retro hippieville than like actual hippieville. Many vendors were posers making a lot of money selling generic products (like tie-dyed shirts and stuff) to tourists, but some of the people and products looked authentic. There were drugged out looking guys lolling about on the street and the smell of hemp was pervasive. The music was raucous, and the bands were actual bands of the sixties/seventies or bands that played similar music.

The Union Street Festival had items like cold-brewed coffee, soy kale shakes, and light brunch foods, in addition to barbecue and beer, while the Haight-Ashbury Fair was mostly barbecue and beer.

I walked back from HASF through the park.

Plaque dedicated to Allen Ginsberg

Sign reads: Herbs to help you feel happy, healthy, horny, and naturally high

In today's Haight-Ashbury, the freaks and the pigs mix comfortably.


Duck and turtles in Golden Gate Park

Boats on the lake in Golden Gate Park