Play is key to expanding and broadening our embodied experience with our surroundings. It is an exploratory and experiential means for incrementally, iteratively and continuously updating our understanding and interpretation of the various concepts, objects, people, emotions and the mapping between these variables. It is a complex process that is difficult to decode and measure.
We are in the world where almost everything is measured. Competitive play for instance allow for winning conditions to be determined and play outcomes to be assessed. A more summative approach to assessing play leads to having winners and losers at part of the experience. But what about the process in between. Are there any feedback mechanism that would influence the play process and steer the activity towards a more serious experience. What is serious? Serious competition with tangible outcomes/rewards or serious endevours with an aim to win for the sake of the adrenaline buzz?
This would mean that play that is meant to foster autonomy and freedom has now become more structured and “formal”. A personal experience is now influenced by the need to adhere to the play rules and the winning conditions? Play has been re-mixed into the context of gameplay. How do we design this playful and gameful experience without making it too restricting and to allow the feedback cycle to be as natural as possible so that it may add to the “play” experience?
“This shouldn’t be construed as a claim that “everything is a game.” Games are a particular manifestation of play, not its totality. They happen to be a good starting point for an investigation of play because the formality of their rules makes the machinery of play easier to observe and analyze” (Upton, 2015). Hence, games are a means by which play can be observed in a more objective way, which will lead to purposeful and meaningful engagement.
Entertainment games provide this environment, where players can immerse in the “tasks” at hand. Play is now more designed with specific goals (pre)set for the players. The engaging characteristics of digital entertainment games and the need to inject more fun and play in serious activities have also inspired the use of the same technology for achieving more serious and purposeful outcomes. Serious Games as we called it is formally defined as the use of digital game technologies for purposes other than entertainment. (Game) Play has been re-mixed in such a way that the designed play experience is mapped against some serious and measurable outcomes (games for learning, games for change, games for health, etc.).
However, there is a danger that the mapping can be imbalance, where either the play elements or serious goals are compromised. Challenging! There are however existing studies such as flow (see Kristian et al., 2013; 2014), Learning-Game Mechanics Mapping (Arnab et al. 2015, Lim et al. 2014) and Transdisciplinary Methodological Framework (Arnab & Clarke 2016) amongst others which can be exploited and expanded towards informing the design and development process.
Another domain that is also influenced by the engaging and motivating aspects of games and play is Gamification, defined as the use of game elements (mechanics, dynamics, aesthetics) in non-game contexts. Simple examples include FitBit, Habitica, Starbucks reward app, Zombies Run, LinkedIn leaderboard, FourSquare, RiseGlobal leaderboards and many more.The more effective use of gamification will normally go beyond the extrinsics and focus more on intrinsic motivations and means to engage and sustain participation in an otherwise tedious task. Essentially, key to expanding gamification beyond the basic Points, Badges and Leaderboards (PBL) is to go back to basic and unpick the autonomy of playfulness and the “formality” of gamefulness. Gamification in its positive forms maps the intrinsic pull of playfulness and gamefulness against purpose and meaning and the personalised needs of the individuals to achieve “mastery” in whatever activities they are engaging with. The activity- (actionable) feedback cycles commonly used in gamification are underpinned by meaningful measures, observation and analysis afforded by the formality of game-like rules (mechanics and dynamics).
There are still a lot of studies and investigations that need to be carried out on the mapping between the autonomy of play, the formality of games, the desired serious outcomes and the individual needs of the target audience, which could transform ordinary activities into extraordinary experiences. The hybridness of space and contexts afforded by the advancement of technologies, such as the Internet of Things will supersize the playful and gameful experience. It is time to re-mix and transform play and make it even more pervasive in day to day life. Games and gamification are the instruments that can help to formalise and structure the experience to create context and narratives for the experience. Designed autonomy and serendipity?