In my A to Z of Gamification, B is for Badges.
Badges are a staple and much maligned technique used in gamification, but I’m not going to beat them down in this post. Despite some justified criticisms and overuse in the market, instead I’d like to reconnect you with the 4 reasons why, I think, we all still love badges.
I realised this recently as I was clearing out the last of the boxes from our house move, from almost 6 months ago. You know that final box. The one that seems to be filled with smaller boxes and mainly dust. A box you’ve always seemed to own, but never remember packing.
Inside it, I found a stack of colourful pieces of cards from my school. These weren’t certificates of qualifications or from competitions I’d won. They were the end of year school badges of my era.
Each card recognized a 9 year old me for things as diverse as; having been a ‘corner in country dance’, for having ‘sang in the choir’ or participant in the ‘Policeman’s dance competition’.
I studied each one in turn, admiring the effort they’d gone to do create a unique little picture at the top to represent each of these activities. As I handled each of these paper badges, I wondered at the decades they’ve followed me around; through a student flat, 2 house moves and a marriage. Here’s why I think that is…
(1) Badges as Accomplishment
There’s a reason badges in games are also sometimes called simply ‘Achievements’. They’re meant to count for something. I did it! I remember the hours of country dance practice or the song we’d sung to practice our dance moves to.
I remember now that moment of holding that card in my hand.
No matter how much you try to savour that moment, in the month or years gone past, you’ll forget. As you go about your life you’ll forget because we always do. Until one day your hand might linger to a well-kept box or eye catch on that old spot on the mantle piece.
You kept a piece of you, encompassed in a badge, that brings a memory and smile to your face.
(2) Badges as Discovery
I remember the end of school assembly and sitting cross-legged on the floor of the hall. The table is too high at the front, so the big kids try to strain their necks to see the stacks of cards carefully sorted into piles on top.
A whisper moves through the hall, as they begin to call names and we wait. Listening, hoping. As the first of the kids accept their cards and come running back to their spot, we ask them to “pass them”, “show us”, “what colour did you get?”
We all twist around, impatient to catch a glimpse and our legs jumping out from under us as we hear our name called.
(3) Badges as Collectables
The boy at the end of the row lines up his cards one after the other, and still they call his name. He fans them out carefully, one corner touching as they overlap and the picture in the middle peeks out from a coloured segment.
On and on the list goes; chess club, football, piano… He slots the new card in against the one of the same colours and the kids are in awe as we see the pattern building. Red for sports, blue for clubs, yellow for music. He fans them out and we shuffle to make room, waiting to see if he’ll get them all.
(4) Badges as acknowledgement of specialism
There’s the other kind of kid in the room. She’s waiting for her name and she knows it’s coming. The one piece of card in a small pile of its own. The one colour that sits apart. She eyes it up patiently, knowing that we see it too. This one is her’s and it will be her’s alone.
And how about Badges as Rewards.
Simply put. They’re not. A piece of card isn’t a reward, just as a virtual badge isn’t a reward in any gamification design.
Badges only have value when they are coupled with the meaning instilled by these 4 different kinds of experiences we might associate with them. If that meaning is diluted because in gamification, we forget to design them in this way, then really you just gave a 9 year old kid a piece of card.
If that were true of all badges then I wouldn’t be hanging one of those on my wall today.