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Work hard, play hard: Gamification

Work hard, play hard: Gamification

TV game shows love progress bars, don’t they? The contestants and audience hold their breath as blocks light up to create a path towards a prize, or a big thermometer-like thing rises until a desired goal is reached. We seem to be hard-wired to respond to these visualisations of progress, and get a sense of achievement and reward when the goal is reached.

This tendency can be exploited to motivate people to learn, socialise, achieve mastery, and stay with the program until completion. It has been shown to work well in eLearning, and reward systems are built into a lot of modern elearning programs. It is also effective in customer loyalty schemes, employee effectiveness programs, fitness apps, and many other areas including personal finance (here's a guide to gamifying your savings from

The word ‘gamification’ was coined in 2002 by Nick Pelling, a British-born computer scientist, but did not gain popularity until 2010 when social reward elements entered video games like The Sims and SimCity.  Bill Gaver, a professor of design at Goldsmith’s, University of London, has written that we should design for Homo Ludens (the playful human) rather than Homo Sapiens (the knowledgeable/wise human). Gamification is all the rage as a way of motivating people to keep playing, work better, learn, and stay engaged. Some of those who don’t like the term ‘gamification’ prefer to call it ‘serious games’.

Coursera’s Computer Science offering includes a course on gamification, which defines the term as ‘the application of game elements and digital game design techniques to non-game problems, such as business and social impact challenges.’ It is convened by Professor Kevin Werbach, author of the book For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business. The course examines the application of game design principles in non-game contexts through theories of Motivation and Psychology. Applications are focused on the workplace and include Enterprise Applications, Workplace Motivation and Behaviour Change in Organisations. Leading gamification experts give video interviews on topics such as Pointification and Virtual Economies. Legal and regulatory issues of gamification are also explored.

This course is useful for managers keen to incentivise and motivate their employees using gamification. However it contains a caveat in the form of a lecture titled ‘Exploitationware’, which suggests gamification should not be taken too far; a criticism of gamification is that it is too effective and can be used to make people do things that aren’t necessarily in their interest. A given example is the leader board for housekeeping staff at Disneyland hotels, in which staff have been described as ‘responding to the crack of an electronic whip.’

Gamification is powerful. Use it wisely.