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“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – Juliet Capulet

Simple Machines by Tinybop is an app for teaching physics that is beautifully executed, with appealing illustrations, sounds and an intuitive interface. User feedback is immediate and multi-sensorial, providing clues, cues and a sense of accomplishment. Most of all, it is fun to play. Yes, play. Simple Machines is no didactic appification of classroom physics demonstrations. It is by all appearances, a game.

And yet Tinybop project lead Colleen Hampton is quoted in a Fast Company article on Simple Machines as saying,

“We don’t include gamification because we’re purposely building open-ended games . . .”

I guess what Ms Hampton is referring to is the absence of points, badges, leaderboards, levels, boss fights and many of the other mechanics of videogames that are often utilised in gamification designs.

I applaud her and her team for leaving these competition-inducing elements out – I think far too much emphasis is placed in education on competition as a motivator and the drive to win can eclipse the drive to learn. Simple Machines does exactly what we believe good gamification should do – subtly reinforce the intrinsic motivation of the user, in this case to achieve competence with a novel task (and learn some physics along the way).

More could be done to make Simple Machines a compelling activity, such as provide the characters that appear in the game with more identity and integrate the various tasks within the game into an over-arching narrative through which the characters proceed as proxies for the users.

But it is still a great app – and a good example of gamification, despite what Ms Hampton says.



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