Getting Emotional: What Video Games Can Teach the Book Industry
Gamifying ebooks has been bandied about the book industry plenty without much to show for it. Some cite the success of interactive children's books that are helping children learn to read faster than ever before. But others question whether a book that is adopting game-like qualities is still a book. And further, many publishers doubt they should be investing time and money in essentially becoming game developers -- a foreign and expensive pursuit.
Jane McGonigal, who was one of my favorite presenters at the IDPF Digital Book conference this year, reframes the gamification issue entirely. McGonical is a researcher who has studied video games and their affects on individuals and society. She is the author of Reality Is Broken and SuperBetter. It's not that books need to be gamified, she argued in a session at IDPF, but that publishers should strive to captivate their readers as powerfully as video games do Considering that there are now 1 billion gamers in the world who spend an hour each day playing digital games, this industry is doing something right and it's worth emulating.
The reason video games have found such a captive audience, continued McGonigal, is that they incite positive emotions in gamers -- emotions that these individuals are not realizing through their work or social lives. The most important of those emotions are love, pride, awe and wonder, creativity, and flow. Love between two friends actually grows from playing video games and solving problems together. Pride is felt when a gamer achieves his goal or conquers a new challenge. Awe and wonder is incited when a gamer feels like she is part of something bigger than herself. Creativity is encouraged when gamers have more agency within the game and can create their own world. And finally flow, explained McGonigal, is the state of working at the edge of one's abilities so that the work continues to be engaging and challenging.
"These emotions make us more resilient in our every day lives," said McGonigal. "We're less likely to give up in the face of a tough challenge. We're more ambitious as well, and better able to learn from failure."
The emotions she listed, especially those top five, are also derived from reading. But publishers could push the format and content of their stories to take greater advantage of these positive (and addictive) reader emotions. To encourage the emotion of love and companionship, McGonigal proposes a cooperative reading environment akin to cooperative gaming. For creativity, perhaps more self-publishing and reader agency is worth pursuing. Could a publisher hold information back from the story, asked McGonigal, creating something readers must unlock and create that sense of achievement and pride? "These emotions are the clues to the future of publishing," said McGonigal.
Its more important than ever for publishers to connect with their readers, collect data, and find out what is compelling them to read more. I'm excited to see publishers create and test content with these emotional frameworks in mind. What would our industry look like if we had 1 billion readers spending an hour a day with our books?