Loranne's Adventures in Librarying
One quote that really stood out to me this week among our readings in Meaningful Gamification is also the one that really rankles.
From Sanford: “Points are for people with no imagination.”
In my notes that I took on this reading, I wrote down that quote, and next to it, in big, harsh, angry letters: “BOO!” I can’t tell you why, at the moment, that sits so ill with me, but I’m going to try to use this post as a way of figuring it out.
Do not confuse my dislike of this statement for general disagreement with Sandford’s point. I completely concur that accumulating points ≠ playing a game. However, I don’t think that points (inside or outside of games) are inherently bad, nor are they indicative of a particular failing. “Pointsification,” as Margaret termed it, on the other hand, is a whole ‘nother story, which I will try to address in my next post.
So what do points mean to me? In games that I play with others, they reflect a measure by which I have either triumphed or been beaten. As a highly competitive person in these situations, I don’t always manage to keep my gloat reflex in check. I’m pretty sure I have uttered the words “Do I look like a bus, because I just took you to school!” at least once, in the face of a particularly sweet victory.
In my favorite games, which are, let’s face it, primarily RPGs, points are a simple substitute for marking time and/or experience. When I think of points, I automatically think of XP. Time and experience are both vital in character/story-driven RPGs. They show progress, both of the narrative and the characters involved. Points are the primary vehicle for the development of new abilities, and are sometimes attached to important events in the plot.
However, in both table-top and video game versions I like to play, the specific number of points I’ve gained from any given battle or quest is often the least of my concerns. I don’t play for points, I play to advance the story. Points are a mechanism used by the game to represent that advancement. What matters is not the number of XP itself, but rather whether that number has put my character within reach of a goal–a new skill or item they can use.
Particularly in terms of time, I think points are very useful. In a long-form game that takes weeks or months to play, days or years pass in-game that are not otherwise strictly bound to realtime. Points can be used to express to the player something that I think it would be otherwise difficult to quantify in our minds.
In this light, I still disagree with Sanford’s statement, but I don’t think he meant it to be quite such a focal point (pun totally intended). Through points, I don’t have to think as hard to maintain a connection to game and character progress. Which perhaps requires less of my imagination?
Sandford asserts that there are great games that have nothing to do with points. At the moment, all that comes to mind are the Sims series (The Sims, Sim City, etc.). Sandbox games. And it’s true, they are great. However, I don’t think their greatness necessarily means that points are categorically Bad. There can be poor implementation of point systems,–which I’ll explore further in my upcoming “Pointsification” post– but I don’t see the need to vilify all point systems everywhere.
Both Sanford and Margaret made statements at various points that amount to the following: a great game is greater than the sum of its parts. I see no reason why those parts can’t include points, so long as they are used thoughtfully, and aren’t the central mechanic of the game.