Tips from Andrzej Marczewski for journalists interested in gamification and news games

Andrzej Marczewski

Andrzej Marczewski

Are journalists confusing gamification with serious games? Andrzej Marczewski, an expert and thought-leader in the field, tells Alex Iacovangelo that he thinks that journalists should first learn the difference.

I spend a lot of time splitting the definitions up. Gamification gets a bad name because people think that it is a catch-all for any attempt at non-entertainment related use of games or game mechanics.

“Really, it is just about using game elements in non-games – not making them. Serious games are different.”

serious games chart

Andrzej’s visualisation of the difference between gamification and serious games

A good text adventure – or serious game – has, says Andrzej, an interesting story.

It doesn’t have to be long, but it needs to be well written.

“The choices need to make sense in the context of the game, for example, puzzles should be solvable with logic and the understanding you have gained from playing the game – not surreal leaps of guess work.”

Serious games: extreme poverty in India

The first game he recommends is Survive 125, produced by Live58. It places readers in India while living in extreme poverty, forced to make tough decisions between personal health, the well-being of the family, and money.

 “I like games like Survive 125 that put you in the position of other people. In this case a parent living in extreme poverty and the sorts of decisions they have to make.”

Money or health? Balancing the two can be tougher than you think

As a game that places the player in a war as a civilian trying to survive, Andrzej suggests This War of Mine.

“Whilst not strictly a news game, it is a good example of getting that sort of tough decision making spot on.”

Hard to make game mechanics fit in context

“It is easy to apply game mechanics, but hard to make them fit in context. There are tools like Twine that can help a writer make a text based game that contains meaningful choices, but graphics-based games can be really tough.”

For those with limited resources, tools such as QuestTwine makes it easier to create text adventures using limited coding.

Making it flow with good storytelling, however, is still up to the journalist.

Good and bad applications of gamification

Waze screenshot


Andrzej likes navigation app Waze as an example of ‘pure gamification:

“It uses very simple mechanics to encourage people to share updated information about traffic and the like. It has points and a leaderboard, but more importantly it has a sense of purpose. You update the road info and it helps others.”

What about the bad examples of gamification? “That is a long list,” he says.

“If I had to pick one it would be Google News badges. It was a good example of just throwing badges at something for no reason other than it seemed like a great idea to someone!”

google news badges

Google News badges

Gamification is all about motivation – but not bribery

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation play a big role in encouraging readers when it comes to game mechanics: extrinsic motivation involves the user doing something because there is a reward such as a badge, status or points that they want. Intrinsic motivation refers to when a reader is encouraged to do something because they enjoy it, regardless of whether or not they will be rewarded for it.

Extrinsic motivation is seen as a short term method for encouraging engagement and while it does work, it can become simple bribery. This, says Andrzej, is the worst sin you can commit.

“And forgetting that bribery is not a sustainable business model. For many, points and badges on websites represent a very short term engagement option.”

An earlier version of this post first appeared on Alex Iacovangelo’s blog.


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