Gamified socializing in remote education: An exploration of the social affordances of the gamified conference platform Gather
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Since the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced education to digital platforms. While the great influence gained by economically driven businesses is a problem, another important issue is the lack of social interaction between students in digital environments. Students experience a lower degree of connectedness in online settings compared to traditional, location-bound education. The present study aimed to investigate the gamified conference platform ‘Gather’ in terms of how it facilitates remote socializing, which is the use of virtual platforms to form relationships and experience relatedness with others. The platform’s virtual interface has been analyzed by employing a discursive interface analysis. The functional, sensory, and cognitive affordances that enable social interaction and produce norms about it were evaluated. The results showed that Gather constructs social interaction by trying to replicate how it functions in real life. Two factors emerged most crucial. The first is proximity; interaction through video- and audio-chats is only possible if users are in each other’s vicinity. The second is interactivity, as users have to move their virtual avatars through the interface, not only to interact with others but also to use objects, for example for collaborative work. These findings imply that a playful interface on conference platforms has the potential to come closer to replicating real-life interaction and thereby create a higher degree of relatedness between peers.