The Gamification of Books: Good Idea, or Bad?

[This article first appeared on Book Business‘s sister site Teleread]

There was an interesting article in yesterday’s Morning Links about the ‘gamification’ of books. I had first heard this term in response to the Reading Life feature on the Kobo platform, which awards you ‘badges’ for such activities as reading at a certain time in the day, reading a certain number of books, using a dictionary or bookmark feature, and so on. But this article was coming at it from a different aspect: using the ‘concept of game mechanics’ to ‘pull the reader through a book.’

Jeremy Greenfield of Digital Book World, the article’s author, suggests applying these strategies to children’s titles as a form of ‘cheese/broccoli’ motivation—just as kids will eat their vegetables more easily if you dress them up with fancy toppings, so too does he suppose they’ll read more books if it’s turned into a game.

At the time, I scoffed a little at this idea. As an educator, I bristle at the notion that everything has to be fun. I do try and make my classes as engaging and ‘fun’ as I can, but sometimes one does just have to knuckle down and do something less-fun but important. But then I came across a book—oriented to adults—that unwittingly employs the ‘gamification’ strategy, and now I’m wondering if there might be more to this idea than I thought.

The book is Slim for Life by Jillian Michaels; I’m a fan of hers (more for her workout DVDs and her excellent podcast than for her work on The Biggest Loser per se), and put this on reserve at the library as soon as is become available. The ebook is almost $15, which is too rich for my blood!

gamificationAnyway, the book has a somewhat unusual format. Each chapter is focused on a certain life area (diet, fitness, lifestyle and so on), as in her previous weight-loss books. However, the information is not presented narrative-style. Rather, it’s presented as a series of short, succinct little ‘tips,’ each of which has been assigned a point value based on how important Michaels thinks it will be for your success on the program. Tips worth three points are the most important, and you should try to do them all. Tips worth two points are good, solid suggestions that you should do if they work for your lifestyle. Tips worth one point will give you a boost if you need help in a certain area.

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