Gamifying Practice

Gamifying Practice

David Calås (Linnaeus University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1970-7.ch010
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This chapter argues that gamification is primarily of practical importance and discusses research strategies that could be used to approach gamification studies from practice-based perspectives. Since practice theories are much absent in the area of gamification studies, this chapter considers how adopting a practice ontology can help resolve some pressing issues in theorization. A shift towards practice theory implies a step away from reductionist claims found in current literature, such as focusing and classifying single game components or mechanics, into a framework of realist social constructionism. In this view, gamification systems are designed to influence people's experience and commitments by intervening with pre-existing social arrangements. Practice perspectives require the researcher to start at a social site, where practices unfold and are enacted. The promise of practice approaches in research on gamification lies in their capacity of addressing the concerted accomplishment of orderly scenes of action, where researchers must have an understanding of the practices of gaming and the gamified situation.
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Gamification systems are designed to influence people’s experiences and commitments by intervening with pre-existing practical arrangements and by contributing new or altered practices. By viewing the world through a practice lens (Feldman & Orlikowski, 2011), games are ongoing productions of social life that emerge through players’ recurrent actions. Similarly, gamified environments are social practices bestowed with elements of play, which we understand as ‘gamified practices’. Accordingly, this chapter will argue that grounding research approaches in practice-based perspectives is essential for gamification studies and scholars seeking to understand how gamified practices unfold. To clarify, acts of applying gamification systems are here assumed to be deliberate attempts to meddle with social and practical conditions found in spatial and social sites, such as various ‘servicescapes’ (Harris & Ezeh, 2008).

Gamifying servicescapes, or at the very least the act of designing gamification systems, requires knowledge (and emanates from presumptions) of what is held to be ‘desirable outcomes’ within a specific situation and the site of social practices (Nicholson, 2015; Robson et al., 2015). For instance, intended learning outcomes are desirable within schools (and the field of education) and generally thought of as the anticipated result of education. The desired outcomes, of course, varies depending on the context. For example, the experienced quality of a service, the productivity of employees, or personal dietary and fitness goals could be the ends sought to influence through means of gamification. Regardless, the act of designing potent gamification systems necessitates an understanding of what is desirable within a specific servicescape and how game mechanics can influence existing practices cordially—understandings of contingent logics of practice.

From an affirmative outlook on the application of gamification systems in educational practices, we would consistently view result-enhancing efforts of leveraging learning outcomes through gamification in a positive light. The accumulation of research on gamification in educational organizations also testifies that this is generally the case (Rice, 2012; Hamari, Koivisto, & Sarsa, 2014; Khan, Ahmad, & Malik, 2017). While previous definitions of gamification have emphasized the centrality of making practices more game-like (cf. Werbach, 2014; Deterding et al., 2012; Huotari & Hamari, 2012), this chapter takes the centrality of practices of outmost significance. It does so by deliberating the consequences of an ontological shift where gamification is viewed from a practice perspective.

Before entering the realm of practice studies, however, it is important to underline that gamification is primarily a practical phenomenon—regardless of our outlook, it only happens in practice. A ‘case of gamification’ that fails to change anything in practice has not actually gamified anything. This example also illustrates the difference between gamification in theory and practice. Whereas the latter necessitates a happening or enactment of a gamified environment, a theoretical argument (like the one constructed in this chapter) merely theorizes such happenings.

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