“Congratulations. Reading the first paragraph of this article has earned you a badge.” In a curious piece in today’s New York Times, Nick Winfield discusses a concept already well known in gaming circles: that the tasking and reward systems of video games have broader social implications. As the article continues:
“If this made-up award makes you feel good about yourself, then you are on your way to understanding gamification, a business trend — some would say fad — that aims to infuse otherwise mundane activities with the excitement and instant feedback of video games.
“Many businesses are using these game tricks to try to get people hooked on their products and services — and it is working, thanks to smartphones and the Internet.
“Buying a cup of coffee? Foursquare, the social networking app that helped popularize the gamification idea, gives people virtual badges for checking in at a local cafe or restaurant.
“Conserving energy? More than 75 utilities have begun using a service from a company called Opower that awards badges to customers when they reduce their energy consumption. Customers can compare their progress with their neighbors’ and broadcast their achievements on Facebook.
“I’m not going to lie — I hate those online game apps on Facebook. I delete them,” said Brett Little, who works for an environmental nonprofit group in Grand Rapids, Mich., and has been known to share his energy-saving progress online. “This one I really enjoy.”
“Of course, people and businesses have long added game elements to parts of regular life. Parents reward their children for household work with gold-star stickers. Business travelers pump their fists when they hit elite traveler status on an airline.
“But digital technologies like smartphones and cheap sensors have taken the phenomenon to a new level, especially among adults. Now, game concepts like points, badges and leader boards are so mainstream that they have become powerful motivators in many settings, even some incongruous ones. At a time when games are becoming ever more realistic, reality is becoming more gamelike.
“’We have a tendency to be dismissive about games, but what we’re learning is that games in general are wonderfully powerful tools that can be applied in all sorts of serious contexts,’ said Kevin Werbach, an associate professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, who teaches a course on how businesses can use games and recently wrote a book on the subject.
“The adoption of games has found particular resonance in the workplace, where games are no longer just a way to goof off.Employers like Reed Elsevier, the publishing company, are using a Web-based game service from a company called Keas that encourages workers to stay healthy by grouping themselves into teams of six and collecting points for achieving mental and physical fitness goals. Among the challenges Keas assigns: laughing randomly for 30 seconds. The members of winning teams at Reed each get $200 gift cards.”