Gamification of reading: is it a page-turner or a problem?

Gamification of reading: is it a page-turner or a problem?

by Suswati Basu
0 comment
The gamification of reading – is it an issue?

On International Literacy Day, a celebration of the written word’s enduring power, we find ourselves at a literary crossroads. In an era marked by digitisation and rapid cultural shifts, the act of reading has taken on new dimensions, thanks to platforms like Goodreads, Booktok, and Bookstagram. These platforms, while undoubtedly fostering a sense of community among readers, have also sparked a debate: is there gamification of reading, and what are the effects on our creative habits?

The journey of a bibliophile

I am guilty of gamifying this process. A hiatus during my university days left me craving the magic of books again. It began innocently enough with an audiobook, “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins. Little did I know, this would set me on a path to read more than 380 books in a single year. Ask me about any of those books from 2017 (except for David Grann‘s “Killers of a Flower Moon”), and my response would invariably be, “let me check Goodreads and I will get back to you.” I could recall the gist but not much else.

Eventually, I realised I had become entangled in the numbers game, focusing more on quantity than the sheer pleasure of poring over the pages. Nowadays, I’ve circled back to my childhood days of thumbing through titles for pure enjoyment, and I only speed read if necessary – though I actively avoid it. What is the point of this bizarre tangent you ask? Well, since its inception in 2007, Goodreads has been an influential player in transforming the reading landscape into more of a commodified mission.

Goodreads: a game changer or a game played?

Goodreads, often dubbed the “world’s largest site for readers,” has brought millions of bookworms together, offering them the ability to rate reads, discover new authors, and engage in vibrant literary discussions. Today, book sales in the US have reached record highs, and this phenomenon has been partly attributed to the prolonged period of forced isolation and the rise of easy content creation, exemplified by the rise of #BookTok. There is a growing desire in our culture, driven both by the digitisation of life and the allure of social media platforms, to be seen as someone who reads, often overshadowing the act itself.

Yet, within the seemingly idyllic world of Goodreads lies a complex landscape. The platform’s aesthetic, largely unchanged since Amazon’s acquisition in 2013, is criticised for its uninspiring design. What began as a tool for comparing the popularity of “Dune” and “Pride and Prejudice” among friends has evolved into a place where ads for Prime shows now dominate the home page.

Different platforms, same goals

While Goodreads dominates the world of book rating and discussion, other social media networks have their unique roles in the world of literature. Twitter captures the drama of book deals and author controversies while offering writers a chance to find an audience. TikTok transforms self-published titles into bestsellers through tearful front-camera reviews. Instagram elevates books to visual objects and intellectual status symbols. Here, publications often becomes a tool for image-building, and on Goodreads, these uses intersect.

Influencers recommend listening to audiobooks at 1.5 times the speed, and Goodreads users consciously opt for shorter books to meet over-ambitious goals. Every year, participation in Goodreads’ reading challenge surges, with millions pledging to read a specific number of books. Classic gamification techniques are at play, but the question lingers: is binge-reading good for us?

Competition vs community

In the realm of digital media, Lyza Lawal, one of the co-founders of Blacklore on TikTok, raises a critical concern about the potential drawbacks of gamifying the act of reading. She told How To Be Books that there is mounting pressure on individuals to consume books rapidly, engage in competition, and keep up with the latest literary trends, especially under a “capitalist system.” While the algorithm may skew people to read certain works, she adds “it is up to us as a community to remind others that they should not pressure themselves to get the latest books but create a space for what they enjoy.”

“That was a problem for me when I first joined the BookTok, I would see others reading 17 books a month, and I would start to pressure myself to read more.”

Lyza Lawal, Blacklore CO-Founder

Nevertheless, Lawal acknowledges that these platforms do offer a silver lining by introducing book lovers to unique and captivating books, carving out a special niche for non-mainstream reads.

Read: BookTok: please don’t let TikTok publishing lower the bar

Lindsey Chastain, a former English professor who established, draws our attention to the evolving landscape of literature. Chastain raises the alarm that it has transformed into a popularity contest, where the pursuit of likes and followers often overshadows the simple joy of delving into the pages of a book for its inherent value. The ghostwriter told us that tracking numbers could “potentially reduce reading to a superficial act of vanity and consumerism.”

“Ultimately, any activity that motivates more people to pick up books, even if initially from FOMO, is a positive.”

Lindsey Chastain, A PEn And A Page founder

Despite this, Chastain doesn’t overlook the positive aspects, such as the formation of groups and the opportunity for book recommendations, which help bookish people discover new authors and genres.

Within the ever-changing realm and “chaotic time” in publishing, Kimberly Davis, the owner of Madville Publishing, reflects on the turbulent state of the industry. The seasoned professional points out how platforms like Goodreads and TikTok provide cost-effective methods to promote books. However, the challenge arises when these promotional efforts turn into a Hunger Games-style tournament driven by clicks and metrics.

“The old ways are gone, and everyone is hustling around trying to find something, anything that might help them to market books. It’s a shotgun approach.”

Kimberly Davis, MADVILLE PUBLISHING Founder

Morgan Gold, a self-published author of the upcoming book “Toby Dog of Gold Shaw Farm” and content creator, investigates how platforms like BookTok and Bookstagram have democratised literature “by exposing books to audiences who might not otherwise engage with them.” Yet, Gold posits that these platforms may not always align with the goals of authors.

Why was Kierra Lewis ‘Iced Out’?

Gold eluded to a recent incident on BookTok, revolving around a hockey romance novel, which exemplifies the tension between fan engagement, authorial intent, and the dynamics of social media. BookTok played a significant part in the hockey team Seattle Kraken’s virality, and the team’s management invited numerous TikTok creators to watch live NHL games. Kierra Lewis was a key player in this scene as a massive fan of this particular genre of novel. Unfortunately it quickly backfired as player Alex Wennberg and his wife apparently found the sexualised antics distasteful.

(This video contains swearing.)

Jock Brocas, the author of “Deadly Departed,” voices concerns over its diminishing gratification, instead giving way to materialistic pursuits and superficiality. The editor-in-chief of Paranormal Daily News highlights the subtle “psychological control” embedded in gamification, which can sometimes overshadow the genuine essence of reading.

Read: Book reviews: erosion of trust due to AI, bombing and misrepresentation

Fernanda Martinez, an editor and book coach, underscores the positive impact of these platforms in making the hobby more accessible and engaging for a new generation of enthusiasts.

“I think platforms like Goodreads, and the Book subcultures on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram have actually made reading much more approachable to an audience that might have otherwise discounted books as being boring or nerdy.”

Fernanda Martinez, Fernanda Literary Services Owner

Nonetheless, the owner of Fernanda Literary Services notes a potential drawback—they tend to concentrate on specific genres, which could inadvertently limit readers’ horizons, especially as a lover of literary fiction herself. In addition, we seem to be falling in to the trap of judging books by it covers, as they are “more visually appealing” on camera.

And finally, Andréa Albright, the founder, CEO, and publisher at Beverly Hills Publishing, views gamification as a double-edged sword in the publishing world. While it is “not harmful” and has reignited a passion for engaging with literature and cultivated a spirited community of word fanatics, it also carries the risk of shifting the focus from savouring quality content to simply amassing quantity. This shift can prioritise aesthetics over substance and reduce thoughtful analysis to hurried, superficial reviews.

“Our hope is that readers will use these platforms as tools to enhance their reading journey, finding a balance that prioritizes the intrinsic joy of reading over external validations.”

Andréa Albright, Beverly Hills Publishing CEO

Striking the right balance

The gamification of reading is a multifaceted phenomenon. So much so, 50% of this week’s limited poll on Mastodon said yes to it becoming gamified, while 31% said no. It has undoubtedly introduced more people to the world of books and fostered a society of bibliophiles. Still, it also carries the risk of reducing the act of perusing books to a superficial competition for likes and followers. Ultimately, how we engage with these platforms and strike a balance between the joy of literary exploration and external validation rests in the hands of each individual reader. As the literary landscape continues to evolve, the role of gamification in reading habits will remain a topic of contention.

Subscribe to my newsletter for new blog posts, recommendations & episodes. Let’s stay updated!


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Are you sure want to unlock this post?
Unlock left : 0
Are you sure want to cancel subscription?
%d bloggers like this: