Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Kukui Cup: A Taste of Gamification

I spent this past week playing a demo run of the Kukui Cup competition. This is an online educational "game" normally run for UH undergrads living in the dorms. It intends to teach participants about current energy issues and promote new energy conservation habits.

The primary form of interaction in the Kukui Cup is completing "Get Nutz" tasks. These tasks include watching educational videos and answering a short question about each one; commiting to a daily habit such as turning off lights when you leave a room; and field-trip activites. Completing each task earns you points that you can apply to a raffle to win prizes. In the real competition, real-time energy use of the dorms would also play a role.

It was interesting to see some recent views on gamification embodied in the mechanics of the Kukui Cup. Jane McGonigal proposes that gamification could be used to harness the energy people devote to games to affect positive change in the real-world. The Kukui Cup seems founded on that principle: that the habits and knowledge gained during the course of the game will continue to influence people afterward.

Tadhg Kelly suggests that gamification really boils down to three mechanics: social validation, completion, and prizes. The Kukui Cup uses all of these. You can see your ranking compared to others, and you are encouraged to advertise your participation through social media and on your dorm-room door. The Get Nutz layout makes it very clear what tasks are available to you and how far you've progressed through them, which gives a sense of completion. The points you earn are all given a real-world value by letting you use them to buy tickets for raffle prizes.

It is less clear to me whether the Kukui Cup contains the three ingredients that Sebastian Deterding claims are missing from most gamification efforts: meaning, mastery, and autonomy. When you strip away the game mechanics of the Kukui Cup, there is not much content left behind that is inherently meaningful to users. That is, the game needs to assume that user have an existing motivation to learn about energy and compete with their peers to conserve it; the game then provides a fun way to do so. There is no real skill that you improve by playing the Kukui Cup, although the way that Get Nutz is broken down into levels that need to be unlocked does give a sense of improvement over time. Finally, the Kukui Cup offers users a fair amount of autonomy in choosing which tasks to complete and habits to cultivate, but users are not able to propose new activities or incorporate goals of their own design into the game.

I also gathered a few practical design tips from playing the Kukui Cup. I found the steady stream of points to be almost motivation in themselves, though giving them a real value through the raffle system was also fun. It was nice to be in the running to win something even if I wasn't close to the top player's ranking. The task-unlocking system was also motivating; it felt a bit like leveling-up in an RPG. The need to check back in every day in order to claim the points for yesterday's habits was a very slick way to keep people logging in. That said, it was fairly easy to cheat on the habits, and sometimes it was unclear whether I adhered to the rule or not. For example, if I promised to do only full loads of laundry, but I didn't do laundry at all today, did I still fulfill my promise?

On the downside, the constant pressure to advertise what I had done on Facebook was a bit annoying, as were the constant requests for feedback. Because of these, it took 3 or 4 clicks to complete a task when it seemed like it should have only taken 2 or 3. Also, if the review questions for the short videos were multiple-choice or matching rather than short answer, their scoring could be automated. This would eliminate the delay in earning points and save someone a few hours "grading" time.

Overall, I found the Kukui Cup a solid example of gamification. It's always nice to explore some concrete examples of theoretical concepts.

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