Where to Start Your Gamification Journey

This post is written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen. 

Gamification has evolved

As Yu-kai discusses in Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards, gamification has been around and has evolved to the point that many professionals have heard about or even engaged with at least elementary gamification material.

Some people immediately see the advantages of human-focused design in the creation of products, particularly web or mobile apps. But we know gamification as defined by human-focused design (thanks for this distinction, Yu-kai!) is applicable to so many other areas, like:

  • marketing gamification
  • lifestyle gamification
  • workplace gamification

We’re also seeing gamification taught in universities and online programs. With so many courses and books to choose from, it’s hard to choose what will be right for you.

Right for you might mean most applicable to achieving your goals of improving your lifestyle, whether your health or relationship with your kids. If this was your aim setting out, you might have fallen into the trap of a self-help book about fitness or parenting, so good for you for checking out gamification instead!
It’s so important to know yourself and know what you’re looking for.

In this post, I’ll start with my learning journey, then discuss a few options to starting or continuing your gamification journey. Who knows, it might last a lifetime!

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How Nightmare: Malaria Saves Lives through Social Gamification


Most people are aware that malaria is a deadly disease caused by mosquitoes. But what is not common knowledge is that nearly half the world’s population is at risk for contracting the disease. Every year, over a million individuals die from it and seventy percent of these fatalities are children. What may also surprise you is that malaria vaccines don’t yet exist. However, the tragic deaths associated with this disease can be simply prevented by sleeping under a $3 mosquito net!

Malaria is prevalent in areas that are warm and damp. These conditions are ideal for mosquitoes to thrive and are found in places around the world- specifically Sub Saharan Africa, India and southern Asia. Malaria is considered to be a minimal threat in North America (case in point: mosquito nets are sold by chains like Cost Plus World Market as bedroom decorations rather than for protection).

Simply lecturing about the facts and statistics of malaria may not be enough to garner effective action but vivid and immersive experiences may change how we understand and take action on this epidemic.

As an example of social gamification at work, the Emmy Award winning animation studio, PsyOp partnered with Against Malaria Foundation to develop a free mobile app called Nightmare: Malaria to spread awareness on this issue and raise funds for life saving mosquito nets.

Released this past December, Psyop is banking on their game to generate enough enthusiasm to secure millions of nets for at-risk individuals across the globe. And with enough participation, it may succeed at lowering the death toll significantly by the end of 2014 and beyond. Here’s how they’ve designed the game to be both engaging and informative:

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Review: Gamification Revolution by Gabe Zichermann and Joselin Linder

Gamification Revolution: How Leaders Leverage Game Mechanics To Crush the Competition by Gabe Zichermann and Joselin Linder helps explain how games are changing the world of business.

When it comes to playing games, most people think of video console games or tablet/phone apps that help distract the player from the drudgery of work. But the gaming field also includes sports, card games, and board games and the old paradigm that games only serve as fun and recreation is radically changing. In Gamification Revolution, we explore this shift in culture and see how business leaders are now using games to their advantage.

The authors start us off by presenting a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that captures the old paradigm, “When you play, play hard: when you work, don’t play at all.” This has been the conventional attitude that has defined what it means to have a sound work ethic.

As games evolved and entered the corporate arena, the lines between work and play are increasingly becoming blurred. The emergence of technology, greater market competition and the need for organizations to grow and adapt has created the need for better mechanisms to accelerate learning and performance within companies. At the same time, these factors have also required that organization’s relate with their customers more consistently and authentically in order to gain quality insight on developing winning products and services. Games now serve as an “invaluable change agent” for corporations to meet these demands.


Gabe Zichermann on the Gamification Revolution (GSummit SF 2013)

The book cites a few interesting stats which illustrate the phenomenon of gamification as an actual revolution.

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How A Game Helps Disadvantaged Women and Children Around the World

Image of a girl supported by the Half the Sky MovementMany women and children in developing countries have very limited opportunities to shape their futures. Their are countless tragic stories of abuse, intolerance, oppression, and suffering that because of their diminished voice go unnoticed by the rest of the world. Half the Sky Movement is a transmedia initiative that was created to shed light on the struggles of mothers, young girls and their families in countries like Cambodia, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan. The project has received the support of celebrities like Diana Lane, America Ferrara and Olivia Wilde. What makes this initiative so appealing and powerful is how it combines different forms of media to share stories, raise awareness, and find solutions to a host of serious gender-based injustices.

Why the Half the Sky Movement Exists

Women in many parts of the world face specific abuse and crimes that continue to impact the daily lives of them and their children. In some of the countries mentioned previously, women often do not have equitable opportunities for real education nor security in a stable economic future- Women perform two thirds of the world’s total working hours but only earn 10% of wages. Statistics on school dropout rates are also dismal (according to Half the Sky, 1 out of every 5 primary school-age girls around the globe are not in school) This ultimately contributes to a cycle of illiteracy and poor career opportunities.

Without access to proper medical care, women often face a high risk of dying from complications related to pregnancy. Women are also victims to severe gender-based crimes such as rape and other forms of social, mental, and physical abuse. The exploitation of women as prostitutes by sex trafficking rings continues to be a growing global problem and in many cases, the laws in their countries fail to protect them from harm and often work against their interests.

Without resources and opportunities to change their own circumstances, the direct and indirect oppression of women continues to be a systematic and cyclical gross injustice.

To combat this and transform lives, The Half the Sky Movement aims to cut “… across platforms to ignite the change needed to put an end to the oppression of women and girls worldwide, the defining issue of our time (Half the Sky Movement).”

So how do they do this?

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How More Organizations Are Playing At Work

gamification-09As many of you are well aware, the potential of gamification extends far beyond recreational fun. And 2013 was the year that a new book was published exploring this exact topic. It’s called Play at Work: How Games Inspire Breakthrough Thinking by Adam Penenberg, a professor of journalism at New York University. He is also the assistant director at NYU’s business and economic program. As a media contributor, he has written for Fast Company, New York Times, Washington Post. He as also appeared on the Today Show, American Morning on CNN, ABC’s World News and Money Line.

Penenberg reminds us that games are everywhere. They are no longer thought of as being just for children and computer geeks. There is an endless array of  mobile game apps for kids of all ages. Twitter can be considered a game where interesting tweets can grow the number of RT’s and followers. There are also lottery games like Powerball, Take Five and Mega Millions. Nissan has even incorporated a game within their newest models to encourage drivers to compete for the best efficiency levels.

Traditional forms of teaching seek to inspire learning, creativity, divergent thought processes, personal productivity and smart problem solving.  As much as parents and teachers want to impart these lessons, they feel like obligatory lists of shoulds and to-do’s for most people.  But when these objectives are integrated with thoughtful game design, they can be met quite easily and effortlessly. This dynamic has led to the development of highly innovative and practical applications for learning and productivity,  particularly for business organizations, science,  medicine, technology and culture.

The use of game mechanics within the workplace and other fields which depend on innovation has led to phenomenal results. Not only is information being easily assimilated and remembered, but also being applied effectively in real situations. And through quality game design, purposeful ideas and solutions are being generated at a faster rate than ever before.

Penenberg feels that mundane tasks can turn into fun activities that employees would actually be motivated to play. But this is not to say that games should be designed as efforts to squeeze more productivity out of them. Instead, the objective of the game design should be to cultivate a sense of fulfillment, engagement and satisfaction. With this intent, games can be designed to truly provide enriching and rewarding growth experiences, instead of bribing players with points.

Play at Work cites examples such as Google, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, IBM, Loreal, Canon, Wells Fargo, Lexus, FedEx, UPS and IBM.

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