Anastasia Salter’s guest post on ProfHacker talks about “gamifying” a course by adding various plug-ins to existing packages (e.g., CubePoints to BuddyPress). Does adding intangible rewards (points and badges) make it a game? Here’s the “yes” perspective from one student:

I think if anything the points system has forced me to participate in class more than I normally would… I don’t respond only to get points, but I actually enjoy responding to what I read. I like giving my point of view and hearing others.

Since Salter’s course is Social Media and Games, I have a suspicion that many of her students are self-selected to look positively on points as a way of “gamifying” a class. All the more power to her if she can get such easy buy-in! I’m a little concerned about the possibility some readers might look at a simple game mechanism (points) and think that’s gamification. If you could make something fun by adding points, taking the SAT would be a barrel of laughs.

Jane McGonigal argues for a different definition of a game: a system with a goal, a set of rules, and feedback that users enter into voluntarily. Yes, points are feedback, but that’s not the only structure one can create.

This morning, the students in my undergraduate history of education class confronted an almost completely-dark room except three spots. I asked them to turn in their clearance forms, said that they were committed to the mission, and that while they always had the choice to use Option 6, I hoped they wouldn’t. Then I explained the mission: saving the world from a horrible unwinding of time that had to be fixed when top physicists in this secret organization had pinpointed the trouble (or at least a point of leverage in the past). I told them they had to make education a universally recognized right in the United States by 1900 (and the window open to them was roughly between 1850 and 1900). They could use the organization’s temporal vortex manipulator (i.e., time machine), but they could only take themselves and natural fibers (so no fancy technology), and headquarters could only be guaranteed to be stable for about two months. So they had to lay plans that could be completed with two months of “operations” in the past. They had to be shrewd. They had to brainstorm what to propose for Operation Nudge.

You may recognize that this is a setup for a standard counterfactual discussion in a history class. Except it’s anything but standard as a setup–my students had to solve the puzzle or see the world ripped apart by this temporal anomaly. It was completely hokey, but I stayed in character through the whole exercise, and my (wonderful) class got down to work in short order and tried to figure out in groups what their best targets were. No points. No big win (okay, they voted on which team’s project they wanted to see attempted, but they didn’t know I’d do that). Does it count as a game?