Gamification of book reading

  • Written by: Marko Samastur
  • Published on:
  • Category: General development, Web

I’ve been following subjects of gamification and game mechanics for a couple of years now, but I’ve only recently spotted how they apply to me. I conceitedly thought that they have little influence on me, but reality is as always more nuanced.

I still seem to be unmoved by most attempts. I don’t care that my LinkedIn profile is not complete and no fake mayorship will get me to use Foursquare until I see some other tangible benefit. On the other hand keeping a list of books and having a goal on how many to read has indeed influenced my behavior.

So why did this last example work? Because I actually care about reading books. It’s something I enjoy and want to do more, so “achievements” actually mean something to me.

I started to track books I read because I wanted to know how many I actually read, in what order and does that say something about me. I also thought setting an annual goal would provide a good incentive to keep reading, which it did, but not exactly in a way I expected.

Having a goal certainly helped me with additional motivation to read books when otherwise I might not have for one reason or another, but it also gave me a nudge against dropping books I didn’t like since doing so would mean time invested in them would not get counted to achieving my goal.

It also pushed me to thinner books. Less pages mean on average quicker completion. But there are books where six or eight hundred pages doesn’t feel too long and they shouldn’t be postponed just because it might take me more than a couple of weeks to read them.

Time pressure also leads to more cursory reading. I’ve never been able to read as deeply as I thought I should, but having a goal definitely changed my reading for the worse. Again, properly engaging a book takes more time and hence makes it harder to achieve the goal.

I didn’t notice any downsides from having a list itself which has indeed provided me with insights about me I probably could have if I wrote a diary. Which I don’t, so I’m left to piecing my long term memories mostly from circumstantial evidence.

That’s why I’m keeping a list, but ditching my goal. Upside is simply not worth the downsides.

I see my experience as providing a lesson. It’s relatively easy to go through different gaming mechanisms and find a combination that you think will give you results you want. However, incentives are a bitch and I think it’s practically impossible to reliably predict what will actually happen in use.

That’s why complex modern games take so much time to create, because getting things right takes time and is not something you can reason through.

I’m with Kathy Sierra on this and you really ought to read her comments . I’m skeptical of general awe around gamification, but I do think game mechanics will have an important role to play in our future. Still I would prefer if we cautiously applied new tools where they can’t hurt much before we plaster badges of suck everywhere.

For a while now I’ve been annoyed by how every gamification talk has about 20 minutes of gushing of its virtues and about 20 seconds on possible ethics problems, but my experience has reminded me of the deeper problem, which is that it is simply much easier to inflict damage to your users and your product (brand) than getting it right.