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Gamification: A sprinkle of fun

01 July, 2011 - Source: BrightBlueDay

The use of game mechanics to motivate people is nothing new. But combine them with the new world of ubiquitous computing, smartphones, accelerometers, GPS, cameras and inexpensive sensors, and our whole lives can be turned into a game.

Does this so called Gamification present an opportunity for brands and business to deliver social good, or hide a more sinister intent to use our sense of fun to manipulate behaviour for purely commercial gain?

Wikipedia defines gamification as “the application of game mechanics in everyday applications and situations to boost engagement, fun and good behaviors.”

There is certainly a lot of evidence to suggest that gamifying your life could help you learn new skills, connect with others, and become fitter, happier and healthier. The positive effects of gaming are literally hardwired into us. Studies of the brains of people playing video games show that gaming is associated with the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in many pleasurable experiences, including eating and sex. Moreover, “virtual” rewards, like positive social feedback and recognition of status, are well known to activate the same regions of the striatum as monetary rewards.

The New Scientist wrote that Yu-Chen Chang of National Taiwan University in Taipei gave kindergarten children a sensor-enabled and gamified toothbrush. Cameras in the bathroom tracked the position of the brush and calculated how effective the brushing was. A mirror-mounted screen showed virtual teeth, suggesting an optimal brushing order. As the child brushed, the game teeth went from discoloured to squeaky clean. The game quadrupled the time the kids spent brushing with a normal toothbrush, and doubled their cleaning effectiveness. Similarly, Pokewalker, lets players unlock new characters in the popular video game Pokemon by getting exercise. The more geeky amongst us should check out chorewars.com or epicwin.com if more motivation is needed to do the housework or complete everyday chores

This re-enforcement of positive personal behaviour can be applied for wider social benefit. Consider a paper coffee cup that contains an RFID tag. Lob it into a recycling bin with sensors, and the bin will communicate with your smartphone, adding credits that give you a discount off your next cappuccino while helping you compete with your friends in an online recycling game.

Basic examples of more commercial use can be as simple as the collection of badges and ‘mayor’ status in foursquare, to the gamification of spending money on your credit card with Swipely and Blippy. The future probably lies in more direct value exchanges. For example, the wearable device Fitbug uses an accelerometer to track a person’s daily physical activity, and awards “vitality points” that can be redeemed for discounts on health insurance plans.

The critics for gamification talk of a future where by marketers, advertisers and even governments may be lured by the idea of using gamification to change our behaviour.

Rather than accept this pessimistic view of the future (what Schell calls the “Gamepocalypse”) I prefer to see the positive effect gamification may bring to the relationship between a brand, its customers, communities and society in general.

An example where a brand may strengthen their relationship with their customers is to change the way that they help their customers learn about their new products. A series of fun tasks/ levels would show the user how to master those hard-to-use features of modern day electronic devices such as TVs or Sat Navs.

Brands can help communities through gamification as can be seen by Honda’s winning creation The Fun Theory which is dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better.

I am looking forward to adding a sprinkling of fun to work over the next few months.

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