Game Frame – A Book Review

Game Frame by Aaron Dignan is a book about gamification. It’s about how you as a person can insert gamification into your ordinary activities to help you get through them. The author is a co-founder in a digital strategy firm for big companies and this is his foray into the next big bandwagon.

Gamification in it’s most basic form is a stupid idea where in most cases people will add points or badges to something and think that is all that is needed to up the engagement with people. Game Frame is not about that. The book is about going beyond that and applying everything that game makers have learned over the decades and implementing the basic system structure that all games work with. Points, badges and other recognition of achievement is a single part of the whole system and one of the less important parts. It goes into depth about a basic framework that all games follow by showing a graph of it and itemizing the different elements of the cycle that games run on: the cycle of Actions -> the Black Box -> Feedback and around again.

Unfortunately the book’s audience is people who are not gamers. These are people who have heard of gamification and the future and want to implement it to their own ends, but understand nothing about games, gamers or the culture around them. It is a book aimed at those who think video games are a mindless pastime for children. So the first two thirds of the book spend it’s time proving that notion wrong. It quotes scientific research, provides economic examples of profitable successes both in games and systems that apply gamification. There’s nothing wrong with this, but there is nothing new here. If you are at all familiar with Gamasutra, Critical-Distance or really anything online that talks about games in a non-frivolous way you know all this. There is nothing new or special for the majority of the book. It’s about convincing people that I frankly don’t know if they need to be convinced of anything. When it comes to buzzwords, people latch onto them regardless of their origin, especially if that is where the market is going. The managers that this section of the book is trying to convince aren’t the same people who will be introducing the nitty gritty of the systems over their products or work environment.

The second half of the book, while it provides a graph that visually depicts how games work, it’s explanation of each and what they are is rather dull. Most of it is going over every conceivable facet of what ‘resources’ a game could use or ‘resistance’ needed for player engagement. In the end the book is an extended collection of wikipedia articles. It has a substantial reference guide in the back and really would probably be more beneficial to read some of the articles in there instead.

The book is focused on a point it wants to make, but doesn’t know who it wants to make it to. It’s an easy read, but says nothing revolutionary or even new. It might be an eye opener to some, but those people wont use it. It doesn’t help that I’m a little uneasy about a book that boils down to a 170-page instruction manual for creating propaganda. He recognizes the power game systems have on people and tells us this is the future and if its target audience is mangers of businesses it can’t help but make me feel a little uneasy. In the last chapter Mr. Dignan talks about the responsibility to use such influential and thought provoking power that these systems have on us and while I respect the effort it is token, like the book itself knows this will be the part of the book that gets ignored.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the book that, in the end, I think is the perfect metaphor for the whole book:

As Yoda once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.

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