Gamification: The Rhetoric Wars

February-March 2011 | GEElab Contributor: Dr Steffen P Walz

"Gamification: The Rhetoric Wars" is a gamified card collectible of rhetorical whimsy, created with Dr Paul Coulton, head of the Mobile Radicals group at Lancaster University's InfoLab21.

Download the template to the right as a hi-res PDF so you can print your own set.

Have a look at the full Presentation PDF.

What first inspired these cards?

Steffen: I got invited to give a look-behind-the-scenes-talk about Gamification at the LIFT conference in Geneva, see the video at Steffen P Walz - The Lodown on "Gamification" (includes a singing intro!). Because LIFT take their curating seriously, beforehand, Nicholas Nova, one of the organizers, and I found that a slide was needed that would compare the different approaches, or rhetorics, really, towards Gamification - a Gamificationization, if you wish. Whimsy implied, next to Extreme-Comparative-Tabling-Disorder, an urge found amongst many academics.

I also intended to place the concept within a wider arc, both historically as well as when considering more recent phenomena such as Serious Games or Alternate Reality Games - the difference being that with Gamification, everyday activity and game mechanics become synchronized, whereas Serious Games are, in terms of time, simulating or abstracting an already preexisting phenomeon, and in some ARGs, a future scenario is prognosed based on present circumstances. The following presentation slides, particularly pages 32 & 33, should yield your interest:

Paul: For his talk, Steffen produced the graph on page 32 to highlight the diverse and often strong held views in regard to Gamification and it seemed to me it quickly turning into a ‘battle’ to gain the high-ground on the subject through increasingly dramatic rhetoric, so I created trading cards style graphics on one of those lazy afternoons we academics so often get. The guilds appeared a logical choice to ‘gamify’ this rhetoric and hopefully their whimsical nature will cause people to pause and smile and perhaps listen as well as speak - or interview us.

Steffen: When I saw Paul had created these graphics on basis of the graph, I immediately wanted them manifest, so I finetuned Paul's graphics and had them printed for real on trading cards just in time for the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. We played a bit of Ping Pong with it.

What were you hoping to accomplish by passing them out?

Paul: It was primarily to highlight that whilst rigorous debate is good we should avoid dramatic monologues if an understanding of the complexities of Gamification is to be revealed. These means engaging and appreciating all the differing points of view that now exist.

Steffen: I really wanted to engage people in a dialogue about Gamification, face to face, and particularly handed the cards to people who could be considered members or even leaders of certain guilds, such as Jesse Schell and Jane McGonigal. It turned out that they liked them, and they understood the playful rhetoric of rhetorics implied, at least that's what they told me.

Was there anyone who was offended by receiving one of these cards?

Steffen: Not that I know. Why should anyone be, really? And if yes, I would kindly ask people to please tell us, so we can apologize, maybe with another card collectible. Or maybe someone esponds to this playfully, perhaps with a further gamified version of the already quasi gamified collectible? Maybe add more rules and game mechanics to the battle? But in all seriousness, Paul and I have been thinking and designing games that intervene and intertwine with everyday for so long, I think it is quite ok we contributed that comment.

Did it spark any interesting dialogue?

Steffen: I received a severe critique from someone who said that to associate California with the utmost utopian guild, the California Sunshine Guild - the card which suggests that all the worlds' problems can be solved by playing games - was plain nonsense and spoke of my unqualified Austral-European comprehending of US culture. I think the gentleman was a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Other than that, Jesse Schell said we had nailed his position quite nicely. Note that I offered a choice of one card to draw to people I talked to at GDC, and that the only people with a complete set apart from Paul and myself are, as of today: Jesse Schell, Jane McGonigal and Gabe Zichermann. Now that's sparse resources thus far!

Interestingly, at GDC, most game scholars chose to belong to the Magic Circle Guild, instead of the Critical Theory School, which I had thought would be their favorite. Maybe these colleagues were afraid of being accused of being alcoholics if they had chosen that card publicly, because on the card, drinks are suggested to debate the topic ad infinitum. The Opportunistic Guild card went well, too. Very few wanted the California Sunshine Guild card, though. Only people from California.

In which "guild" do you belong?

Paul: We belong to the Guild of Whimsical Ninjas. It is a special guild revealed to those who don’t take themselves too seriously .

Steffen: Think of our Guild as the Easter Egg in the Gamification rhetoric wars, pointing at the Metagame that is at stake beyond the Gamification debate.


The Rhetoric Wars Downloadable Cards
The Rhetoric Wars Downloadable Cards
At GDC 2011, mostly game developers from California seemed to be interested in this card.