Serious business of gaming

Gamification, gamefullness and alternative reality sound like fun, but as Anna Jackson explains, they are serious gaming concepts. She fills us in before the Gamemasters Forum at Te Papa.


Gamification, gamefullness and alternative reality sound like fun, but as Anna Jackson explains, they are important and serious gaming concepts.

"Using game design techniques and mechanics, almost any mundane activity can be made more appealing, which is a very compelling and powerful concept."

* Follow Anna's live coverage from the Game Masters Forum (4-5 March) @thebigideanz #gamemasters 

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I'm heading to Wellington soon to take part in a Transmedia panel at the Game Masters Forum at Te Papa, so gaming is on my mind. 

Games are an important dimension of transmedia; even when a game of some kind isn't a core component, there will certainly be aspects of 'gamefulness' or gamification in almost any transmedia project. This post looks at some import gaming concepts in transmedia; gamification, gamefulness, serious games and alternate reality games.

Gamification is "the use of game mechanics and game design techniques in non-game contexts" ( and it's a huge trend in marketing right now, as well as an idea that is being embraced in health, education and non-profit sectors.

Examples of gamification are:

Gamification can be used to encourage consumers to buy more products, students to complete assignments on time or citizens to recycle. Using game design techniques and mechanics, almost any mundane activity can be made more appealing, which is a very compelling and powerful concept.

Here's a more detailed and critical explanation of gamification from Penny Arcade

Gamefulness could perhaps be described as a more holistic application of gamification. Alternate Reality Games designer Jane McGonigal, who coined the term 'gameful', describes it as being:

"what it feels like to have the heart of a gamer, as opposed to just “playful,” which sounds like you’re not taking something seriously. When you’re gameful, your creativity is sparked, your curiosity is sparked and you’re more likely to collaborate with others. You’re more likely to stick with a tough problem, even if you fail at first" (

How does this differ from gamification you may ask?

To some extent the differences are largely ideological. As this post from SuperBetter argues, gamification can be a fairly superficial and cynical application of game design techniques in order to get players/users/consumers to do something based on incentives and rewards. Gamefulness relies more on intrinsic motivation to achieve personally meaningful goals.

Serious Games have a purpose beyond entertainment, usually to train, educate or instigate behavioural change. Superbetter, for example, is a game designed by Jane McGonigal that aims to help players build mental, emotional, social and physical resilience by making them superheroes in their own lives. Players choose a challenge and a goal and do quests to help them reach their 'epic win'.

I've just started playing SuperBetter and my challenge is to get 'superbetter' at working out. I haven't figured out what my actual 'epic win' would be, but let's say my goal is to run a marathon. The first quest I've been assigned is to design a sneaky workout. I like the sound of that.

Apparently this is anything I can do that doesn't involve sitting, standing still, lying down or eating. So I devise a 'sneaky workout' that involves a brisk walk from my desk, out the nearest exit doors, up the outside stairs, down the internal stairs and back to my desk. Completion of this quest gives me +2 for mental resilience and +1 for physical resilience and I've moved up to Level 2. If I want to boost my points quickly I can activate a 'power up', like chugging a glass of water or taking a quick walk around the block.

I've downloaded the SuperBetter app on my phone so I can 'power up' anytime, anywhere. So far SuperBetter does actually seem to be pretty fun, but only time will tell if it's sufficiently 'gameful' for me to persist with playing long enough to reach my 'epic win'.

ARG (Alternative Reality Games)

ARGs are transmedia games that use multiple platforms, integrated into real life. Rather than entering into a fictional game world to play, game elements are embedded in real situations and locations.

A prominent example of an ARG is Lance Weiler’s Pandemic 1.0, which was staged at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011. Pandemic 1.0 was a 'storyworld experience' that spanned film, mobile, online and the real world. It started with a short film about a young boy and his sister whose mother has suddenly fallen ill in what turns out to be a pandemic. The film premiered at Sundance, on TV, and via mobile and online platforms.

Online players and players on the ground at Sundance had to work together to unlock the locations of objects hidden throughout the Sundance site in Utah and return the objects to 'Mission Control', a physical space staged as a Centre for Disease Control. 50 NFC (near field communication) Google Nexus mobile phones were circulated at the festival in biohazard bags. The phones and the hidden objects interacted with Microsoft Surface tables in Mission Control and when each object was placed on the surface table health properties were unlocked that reduced the number of people infected, and each object was associated with a pandemic victim and story.

After five days of gameplay, the narrative eventually led online and offline players to a secret location at Sundance for a show with DJ Kid Koala (also streamed online).

Pandemic 1.0 provided players with a transmedia experience that used a range of different platforms and technologies, but it was also a powerful showcase for the brands that participated in the project, namely Google and Microsoft, demonstrating (again) that gamification is a powerful weapon in the arsenal of integrated marketing.

New Zealand has an active and growing gaming industry. According to the New Zealand Game Developers Association (NZDGA) New Zealand game studios released 73 commercial video games in the year prior to September 2012, and as of last March the local industry employed 380 full-time equivalent game developers.

The majority of kiwi games sales are digital downloads (largely mobile and web browser-based games), and revenue primarily comes from export markets. In New Zealand (and internationally), the games industry is highly innovative, particularly when it comes to exploring new revenue models such as crowdfunding, freemium products and services, social gaming, virtual merchandise sales and digital distribution.

Game Masters - The Forum, brings together game developers, artists, educators, researchers, and filmmakers. As a collaborative event, the forum aims to share knowledge and expand awareness of game development opportunities - both in New Zealand and overseas.

Te Papa has announced top line international game developers Masaya Matsuura and Luke Muscat as keynote speakers for Game Masters – The Forum to be held at Te Papa on 4 and 5 March 2013, a spin off from the Game Masters exhibition currently on show at Te Papa Visa Platinum Gallery until 28 April.

Written by

Transmedia NZ

26 Feb 2013

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