This year a Digital Book World Conference & Expo panel focused on “gamifying” children’s reading experiences in digital. It’s a heated subject, and one that has vocal proponents and opponents — each with valid opinions and questions. The conversation probably warranted a longer session time, but here are four things people creating content for children need to keep in mind.
1. Today’s kids are digital, but they’re not the first generation of kids to be digital.
We cannot ignore the fact that this is the third generation that has grown up playing video games. It is a part of our culture, and kids are drawn to them over any other media. With today’s generation of children, it’s important to create content that leads to “replay-ability.” Integrating game elements into children’s books for pure entertainment can lead to increased “replay-ability” of a reading experience with the stealth effect of actually encouraging kids to read more.
2. Children’s entertainment should not be gratuitous but have a purpose.
Curriculum- and learning-based gamified elements within a digitized story encourage comprehension, alphabet skills, understanding of word families, math concepts, etc., and will surely be supported by parents. Adaptive learning companies like Knewton clearly see the value in gamification applied in education, tapping into the reward and progress/level models of gaming that kids are already comfortable with. The chair of the Gamification Summit, Gabe Zichermann, provides an applicable definition: “Gamification is the process of using game-thinking and game dynamics to engage audiences and solve problems.”
3. Problem solving needs to be at the core of children’s content.
If solving problems via engaging experiences is at the core, then rewards and achievements for a child’s progress within the story — attributable to measurable goals — provide a satisfying result for both the child and parent. In the case of The 39 Clues series, Scholastic shifted the gamification element to a complementary (but core) online experience without disrupting the reading of the books. In this example, entertainment and imagination live in their purest forms on both mediums. This tactic can be applied within an application as well through content that is only unlocked when associated progress in reading takes place.
4. Remember, children’s experiences are for fun.
These experiences can also transport a child into another world, life or situation. Storytelling can evolve in many ways on the digital page, and if tastefully done with an eye toward balancing the experience, gamification will succeed in satisfying both kids’ and parents’ expectations.