I’ve been more focused on my day job than on my classes this week, mostly because I’ve started training 7 new circulation student workers at once. Since they work 2 hour shifts and I’m at work 8 hours a day, you can imagine how full my days have become… and yet, I still took some time to ponder my classwork, and how it intersects with what I’m doing at my job.

In Meaningful Gamification, we’ve been talking about points, and levels, and what information they convey to game designers about how well player behavior matches the designers’ intention, and to game players about what they are supposed to be doing. By training our students, I mainly intend to teach them what they should be doing on the job, and to learn how well they are adapting to it, so it’s probably quite natural that I see some parallels. I’ve been eyeing my own training methods with an eye to how they are already game-like, and puzzling over whether I would even want to make them more game-like, and if so, how that might work.

Student workers don’t overtly earn points during their training, but they do have a checklist of things we need to cover, and I do point out their progress along this checklist on a regular basis. “Look! 7 out of 10 things on this page complete! Look! We finished this WHOLE PAGE!!”  I suspect their reaction to my enthusiasm about these milestones is similar to my reaction when I score points or level up in a game: that is, some mixture of “Woohoo!” and “Big deal.” Part of me would love to set up an online checklist, with progress bars and milestones and maybe even a quest narrative… and part of me cherishes the informality, personal interaction, and flexibility of throwing in those enthusiastic checkins when I feel we need one, rather than on a pre-set schedule.

Another way in which training resembles a game is that we build skills in some activities through a series of increasingly more difficult tasks, similar to a tutorial followed by a set of game levels. Shelving training starts with a dramatic speech about the underlying history behind the library of congress (intro cut scene), followed by some time spent using a simple online shelving game (tutorial), then reorganizing a mixed-up shelving cart (level one), and finally shelving in the actual stacks (level 2). If a student doesn’t ace level 2, they have to keep retrying it with new books until they “beat the game” and their shelving training is complete.  I even provide them with a (literal) walkthrough: we go through the area they were shelving in, looking at the books that were misshelved and talking about strategies for vanquishing similar obstacles next time.  There are also “players” at this stage who identify different goals than the ones I would like them to use (for example, they might shelve for speed instead of accuracy), and (just like any non-sandbox video game) I have to remind them of what they need to do to move on.  After talking in class this week about how many of us have different goals in mind than the ones a game sets up for us, I found myself having more sympathy for these students, and being more explicit with them about how their goals would eventually become part of the “game” as well.

As I checked all those books for shelving accuracy, I found myself wishing we had an augmented reality shelf-reading set-up like the one they’ve built at Miami University.

Not only would that approach make shelf-reading, and shelving training, a lot easier, it also looks ripe for the addition of overlays that would turn both tasks into a game.  Maybe I’m just sleep-deprived after my busy week, but I can imagine all kinds of gamified layers we could add, including point-scoring, leaderboards, and so on…

Despite my enthusiasm, I remain hesitant about what long-term effects outright BLAP gamification of routine tasks could have on the morale of our student workers.  Right now, we have a strong spirit of camaraderie and mutual appreciation in our department.  There’s a balance between having each other’s backs and “live and let live,” and the full-time, experienced staff work hard to instill that culture in our students, and to fight off any tendencies they have to be hard on each other. Maybe it’s because we’ve been studying organizational cultures in my other class this week, but I can easily imagine that turning everything into its point value could destroy our laidback, productive culture, and turn it into a competitive and adversarial one. Even if we set common goals for the group as a whole, they might become rather ruthless in prodding fellow students into contributing their fair share.  (I’ve seen that kind of behavior during charity drives in other workplaces, and it creeps me out even more than straightfoward competition does.)

I suspect that next week’s game elements, badges and achievements, will have similar drawbacks.  I’m looking forward to studying more self-contained game elements, as the course moves forward, and thinking about how we could gamify our students’ jobs in more meaningful ways.

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