Mastering software: gamification of a help system
All software applications provide some sort of help system to users but it is rarely used even if they get stuck. Instead, most users choose a trial and error approach which limits the learning about the software’s capabilities and functionalities and can even result in inappropriate use. Current help systems are not very interactive in that they do not provide any feedback regarding the progress or success of users’ actions and furthermore there are no incentives for users to learn and master a software application. In games, however, the learning component contains both these elements and mastery almost naturally comes to most people.
This research evaluates Ribbon Hero 2, a “gamified” help system for Microsoft Office, and investigates whether it supports and encourages users’ learning and mastering of a software application. The review was based on the game flow theory, a method to quantify and observe the type of experience gamers seek. Then, a situated co-inquiry with six participants was conducted to observe actual experience at play.
Contrasting and comparing these two steps lead to the following findings. Game flow theory is a good game evaluation tool but it lacks consideration of player types. Thus, it cannot be used by itself to design or evaluate gamified help systems but its implementation is a pre-requisite for this type of learning. Ribbon Hero 2 had several bugs, inconsistent game behaviour and lacked social interaction and a proper point rating system. These limitations disparaged the overall (game) experience. If gamification is applied to learning (games) but is not correctly implemented, the results are counter-productive. However, sitting alongside participants as part of the situated co-inquiry method encouraged them to continue and once participants left behind those bugs Ribbon Hero 2 made them smile and enjoy learning while playing. Future research and development will benefit by focusing on individual learning styles by targeting different game genres and player types.