Gamification for newbies.

O ver the past year or so, ‘gamification’ has been gaining popularity and even breaking into everyday business lingo. However, it’s not fully clear what it actually means or what impact it may (or may not) have on our lives.

“Gamification is the concept of applying game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging.” — The Gamification Wiki

If you’ve ever played games such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Lara Croft, World of Warcraft, Angry Birds or even Jet-Set Willy then you’ll have experienced the draw of getting enthralled by games. It may be the pull of needing to get to that final level, of collecting all the gold stars, finding that hidden level or getting to the top of that leaderboard — but something about games keeps you going. It’s these techniques which gamification hopes to translate to other areas of our lives.


The simple factor that when we are in open competition with others it ignites a fire in our belly. Whether it’s competition against others or competition with yourself, it remains one of the most powerful mechanisms of incentive for people. While traditional games use competition simply as a method to keep you going through the game to the end, it can also be used to promote learning and other purposes.

Here’s an example of using gamification for learning. The Chester Walls Quest app allows people to meander around the Roman walls and find out more about their history and the stories surrounding them. Instead of being a simple mobile guide book this app spurs people on to take part in challenges around the walls to score quest points against others. The objective is to get audiences that may not engage with more traditional guides to have fun whilst learning. The apps contains facts, photos, audio and video but it’s the element of competition that pushes people go that little bit further, and for that little bit longer to try to get to the top of the leaderboard.

While the term is new, examples of gamification have been around for quite a while. Do you collect stamps from your local coffee shop or supermarket? The rewards in these cases are real but the mechanisms are the same. In fact, often even when the rewards are virtual (e.g. a virtual badge) the mechanism prove so powerful that it is still a driver for people. It’s not that far removed from Behaviourism’s process of conditioning to encourage the repetition of a desired behaviour.

So, gamification can be making a game out of a task which is not, in itself, self-motivating and it can also be to help push people that little bit further than they would normally. However, can it really be that simple and do people really ‘fall for it’? At the moment only time will tell but suggestions are being made at very high levels that the education system could do well from adopting a game methodology and even businesses are taking it on-board. However, it’s definitely not a sure thing and it has many people worried that it is simply a new shiny gimmick that’s being exploited by shallow marketing departments. For an overview on the arguments against gamification (for business at least) read the posts by Ian Bogost and Jon Radoff.

If you want to learn more about the application of gamification in the real world you can watch the video below from Jane McGonical’s TED talk.