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Aldi Pink and Blue

Beware, the educational wolf dressed in pink

January 14, 2014

Beware, genderfication dressed up as gamification promising education.

It’s a mouthful and it is happening.

“Back to School” is the next child-focussed marketing period post-Christmas. And with the New Year sales now a distant memory, we are about to enter the thick of it.

Everything from tablets and student PCs through to pencil cases and backpacks. Just don’t expect it to be gender-neutral. Or even educational. This is the sales industry after all.

A case in point is the recent catalogue from the German-based Aldi supermarket chain – usually very careful to avoid the genderfication of its products but this one was awash in a sea of pink and blue. Unfortunately, they’re not Robinson Crusoe in the colour parade … all of the major retailers are currently rolling out the opposing pastels.

And with good intent – creating an enjoyable learning atmosphere is admirable.

Providing children with the elements to make this adventure into education enjoyable … reading rewards with stamps, language games with achievement levels etc.

It becomes an issue, however, when this gamification becomes gendered.

It sets up an environment to entrench a whole new generation.

And mostly, without anyone noticing.

Gamification is a strategy by which ordinary processes are infused with principles of motivation and engagement inspired by game theory. Or as Wikipedia would say, “Gamification is the use of game design techniques and mechanisms to solve problems and engage audiences.”
A core gamification strategy is rewards for players who accomplish desired tasks. Types of rewards include points, achievement badges or levels, the filling of a progress bar etc.

According to Wikipedia, “Experts anticipate that the technique would also be applied to health care, financial services, transportation, government, employee training, and other activities.”

It’s already taking place in education.

And leading researcher and voice in video game theory Jane McGonigal claims it is simply an evolutionary step in the way we learn.

“Game design isn’t just a technological craft. It’s a twenty-first-century way of thinking and leading. And gameplay isn’t just a pastime. It’s a twenty-first-century way of working together to accomplish real change,” she claims.

“When you strip away the genre differences and the technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.”

It sounds like a positive learning environment, right?

Until you take on the already-entrenched gender-stereotypical thinking that pervades game design, development and creation … and then you have a new version of an uneven playing field created with good intent.

CEO and founder of Enterprise Gamification Consultancy, Mario Herger, puts it plainly:

introducing game mechanics game design into the applications, processes, and work-related activities, there is a likely danger that the gender bias will be increased.
“Women are earning 0.77 for every dollar that their male counterparts do for the same job in the US. This gender discrimination in pay for the same work cannot be explained away with differences in experience, skill, occupation, education, or hours worked,” he stated recently.

“With gamification entering the workplace, introducing game mechanics game design into the applications, processes, and work-related activities, there is a likely danger that the gender bias will be increased.”

And as Herger highlights, while games are played by both men and women, there is a stark and distinct difference in what types of games and gamification approaches men and women prefer; men prefer games that emphasise competition, mastery, destruction, violence, trial and error, and spatial puzzles (amongst others) while women prefer emotion, nurturing, real-world connection, learning by example, and dialog and verbal puzzles.

In general women represent 42% of all video-gamers, while for mobile and social games women are the majority in the range of 60-70%.

“Considering that currently the majority of gamification practitioners are men and that the first examples that were highlighted in the enterprise gamification space tended to be competitive, the question comes what will happen, when – as envisioned – a large number of workplace applications, processes and activities will be gamified? Will there be a bias towards competitive gamification approaches?” Herger asks.

“The majority of examples that I see, all keep emphasising leader-boards, points and badges, challenges, skill levels, and other mechanics that are catering towards male playing preferences. There is no doubt that the activity and achievement data gathered by those gamified systems will be used to decide which employees will be promoted, get a salary increase, or who will be laid off.”

It is always subtle … profound changes always are.

But combining gender-based marketing with the gamification of your child’s education is more than likely to create a strong affiliation to the already-entrenched male-dominated view of success.

Post By Andrew Walters (6 Posts)

Andrew is a former journalist and now writer, editor and technology strategist with an interest in using the web and social media to promote positive change.

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