EFL Gamification 7: Required Reading

With a few gamification/gameful design posts and much of what I want to say out of the way,  I thought it might be a good time right now to offer a reading list. If you are interested in games and learning and you are just pulling in the occasional article or presentation from your PLE, you are likely getting your info on gamification in less-than-comprehensive bits…and bits…and…bits.  It takes some sifting to see if you get anything good and useful, and that sifting requires a little knowledge and/or experience.  For that reason, and to give yourself a little thinking time, I recommend you try reading a few books. The books mentioned below each contain a diverse range of combinations of theory and examples. Reading through them is like a taking hot air balloon trip over unfamiliar territory, or just climbing up to a high place to get the lay of the land. That said, unfortunately there is no one book that’ll do this completely; you’ll need to read a couple at least. The downside is that books, even the most recent ones, are dated. These are the best of recent books on the topic, but the ideas within them stretch back a decade in some cases. You’ll need to keep trawling your PLE for recent developments. I recommend following a few key people: Nicole Lazzaro, Amy Jo Kim, Gabe Zichermann, and Sebastian Deterding.

I’m working from a few assumptions here: you are a classroom teacher; you work with large classes that often display less than optimal motivation; you have searched online and found lots of short blog articles (particularly business-focused ones) with lots of opinions but not much that is useful for you or your learners; you are interested but skeptical. If this is a reasonably accurate description of you, you’ll likely find my recommendations helpful.

Reality Is Broken (book cover)

One of the things I’ve noticed is that you really ought to try to avoid the term/idea “gamification” and think instead of gameful design or something like that. If that distinction doesn’t mean anything to you yet, Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken is a good way to learn that it is more than just the choice of term that matters. This book will help you make that important change in perspective. She does a great job explaining what games are and why and how they are effective for enjoyment and change. Part 1  of the book is really great–very passionate, very eye-opening, and very clear. She is really does a fine job explaining  intrinsic rewards, unpacking what she sees as the four major categories: the need for satisfying work, how success must be possible, the social environment of our activities, and the craving we all have for higher meaning. She shows how games provide these things and in the process helps you understand how important it is to make use of these things in just about any situation. She challenges your assumptions with arguments that are both passionate and sensible, if a little revolutionary in perspective. As the chapters continue, she covers happiness and her ideas for how games can be a force for good in the world. She does get a little weird in places and you will likely see her more as a zealot than a voice of balanced pedagogy by the time you reach the end. But don’t skip this book. You might not know it, but you need to understand the mindset of gamers/game designers, and Ms. McGonigal is a great guide.


Using Games to Enhance Learning and Teaching (book cover)

Using Games to Enhance Learning and Teaching is a rather ambitious little academic book edited by Nicola Whitton and Alex Moseley. It is ambitious in that it tries to do many things at the same time: provide rationale for the greater use of games in education; show how games can be designed and deployed; provide a theoretical framework for the evaluation of games for educations; etc. Some of these are done better than others and one might question the reasoning behind the inclusion of a couple of chapters. However, the chapters entitled “Good Game Design Is Good Learning Design” and “Narrative: Let Me Tell You a Story” are particularly good and helpful for teachers who want to know more about what games offer to education. Also, the several sections dealing with alternative reality games (ARGs) really help you to see the the pedagogy and design of such activities. The many examples included and the authors’ experience with campus-wide ARGs make these parts of the book very interesting and practically useful if you would like to try it yourself. Oddly, despite the focus on education, there is little attention to using games for individual classrooms. If you are looking for some ideas to bring into your own classes here, you’ll find a few, but you’ll still need to do the specific designing and construction work yourself. One of the strong points of this book is that points are backed up with citations and references to academic papers. The authors are researchers / practitioners and they manage a good balance between theoretical support and practice. It might seem seem strange to praise a book for including references, but academic literature reviews are something the other authors on this list didn’t  seem to worry too much about.


The Mulltiplayer Classroom (book cover)

The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game by Lee Sheldon is what it says it is. If you are looking to set up your course as a game, this is the book for you. See my post on this topic for more details. One of the take-aways from this book is that trying to do so will require a serious re-thinking of how you organize content and a lot of tweaking to get it right for your group of learners. The book is particularly aimed at college teachers who have more control over their curriculum, but various high school and other teachers who have changed their courses into games are also presented as case studies.


For the Win (book cover)

For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business by Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter might seem a strange choice for a list of gamification books for education, but it is included here because it is a succinct overview that can get you up to speed on the topic. The focus is on how gamification can be used for businesses with a web presence especially, but the Mr. Werbach, in addition to designing and delivering one of the first courses on gamification and another that is available as a MOOC from Coursera.org, does a good job introducing the genre, explaining motivation, the elements of games, and the steps for deploying gamification. There are thousands of  businesses trying really hard to make their websites and businesses more fun, and Mr. Werbach knows a lot about them. Understanding their challenges and how they are meeting them helps in conceptualizing the somewhat parallel problem schools have with engaging students. But that’s about as far as it’ll get you. Recently, Mr. Werbach was asked to recommend a short, humorous video that gives a nice introduction to gamification. This one from PennyArcade is what he suggested.


Seductive Interaction Design (book cover)


Seductive Interaction Design by Stephen Anderson is a book that will help you understand gameful design. The sub-title, Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences gives you a better idea of what is in this book but Mr. Anderson is a unique thinker with an interesting perspective. The book is not at all about education, it is not even really much about games or gamification; rather it is a book on user experience design from someone who is an expert in web interface design. So why would you want to read it? Well, education begins with getting attention and trust and Mr. Anderson has a lot to say on those topics.


The Art of Game Design (book cover)

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell comes highly recommended. Sebastian Deterding, for example, says it is the one to read (along with A Well-Played Game by Bernard De Koven, an old book that is soon to be re-released in an updated version). Mr. Schell, of Carnagie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, and of The International Game Developer’s Association, has both the industry experience (he designed Toontown Online for Disney, for example) and the academic position to be taken very seriously. This book, at more than 500 pages, requires a serious investment in time.  It is theoretical, it is practical, and it will help you to see things differently through different lenses.


Embedded Formative Assessment (book cover)

Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam is a book that is not at all about gameful design, and yet what is contained here is very important if you are interested in making learning happen. “Fun is just another word for learning,” said game design guru Raph Koster. And learning happens with feedback–lots of it, in a social context, from peers, teachers, and the learner herself. This book will explain why. This book will sell you on the need for feedback in education. This importance of feedback, for learning, for fun, is at the heart of gameful design. That, and the playfulness that Mr. Anderson talks about (see above). Without good feedback, games become an end unto themselves; the feedback only helps the learner get better at the game. In educational game design, the trick is to use the game to build knowledge or develop skills that go beyond the game. Mr. Wiliam will help to keep your one foot planted squarely in pedagogy. And some of his ideas for providing feedback, you’ll notice if you’re looking through your ludic lens, are pure gamification.





Playful and Powerful: Stephen Anderson Makes You Think About Seductive Interaction Design

I found Seductive Interaction Design: Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences (New Riders, 2011) through a post on Julie Dirkson’s blog, where she introduced a set of cards that Mr. Anderson had developed to help designers in a pinch. Each card contains a design feature (he calls them Mental Notes) you can use to influence users. You flip a card over and think about whether you can incorporate that feature into your design. Perhaps piquing curiosity will help, one card suggests. Or maybe the bystander effect could help you. I went to Mr Anderson’s website to find out more and saw this book. Assuming that the cards would be contained in the book–they aren’t, though you do get an introduction and a few examples, and if you shake the content of the book up and reorganize it, you can probably replicate the content of the cards–I ordered the book. And even though I didn’t get the cards, I’m really glad I ordered the book.

The metaphor used to organize the content is a relationship–a couple at the beginning of a relationship flirting and playing as they try to get to know each other better. There is a dollop of uncertainty and a dash of excitement. It is a social process and a psychological process. It is a process of discovery played out with heightened attention to detail. It is a two-way process and each side has goals and needs and is trying to influence and motivate the other to do something. If we remove the sexual part of the metaphor–and Mr Anderson carefully does in the first unit–it is a good metaphor for advertisers attempting to influence buyers, web designers trying to influence clickers, and teachers trying to influence learners. It also highlights the focus in the book on those first few critical stages in engagement with content. The first interaction with a website is Mr. Anderson’s particular area of expertise, but much of what he says can be applied to any interaction with something new, particularly in educational settings. Indeed, he begins his book with a design feature that got people to use the stairs more at a train station in Sweden.

The book is primarily aimed at web interaction designers, but there is enough educational psychology here to keep any language teacher busy in the 25 chapters arranged in 4 sections. Teachers are not used to thinking of our (mostly) captive learners as needing to be “seduced” into doing what they need to do to learn a language, but the reality is that learners in classrooms vote with their attentional resources and behaviors as much as fickle web surfers do with their mouse clicks. This book will help you to make lessons more fun and effective, with an emphasis on fun because lessons will not be so effective if they are not fun first.

This book is not going to give you an overview of how to construct a complete user/learner experience (for that see my review of Julie Dirksen’s book). It is more about tweaking the details–though they are often fundamental details–to make things more attractive and effective. But it is a very thorough look at the details, with thought-provoking ideas. His section on gamification is particularly good, for example, and you will come away with a more complete understanding of the concept, I’m sure. In many other parts of the book, he deals pretty much with particulars that he has found important, using lots of examples and drawing on his rich experience.

It’s a fun ride, brilliant in many places, and my mind lit up with ideas as I read it. I just wish it had a deck of those cards attached to the back cover…