Is Gamification A Real Word?

Gamification is a new word for a fairly old concept, the use of design techniques to motivate and engage an audience. The fact that the term has come into its own over the past few years, shows us that people are seriously considering the implications of changing the way we do things. Gamification could help us rethink how we manage business, sell a product, or even how we teach our students.

The concept of gamification first piqued my interest after watching the TED Talk: "7 ways games reward the brain". Research from the presentation shows just how effective various game mechanics are at motivating specific behaviors; and how development on these games over the past two decades have given us extensive data about exactly how this works.

Suddenly, there are now many institutions outside of the gaming industry who are starting to make use of this data. One of the most promising examples of this is the Khan Academy, a free online education site that is using simple game design mechanics to keep millions of people engaged in learning. After a quick look around I was surprised to find just how many people have already started serious discussion about Gamification.

There are at least some people though, who say that Gamification isn't a real thing. They would argue that the term is just a buzz word people are throwing around to garner attention and sell books; that it's describing a concept that has been understood in marketing for decades now; or that it's association to video games would  trivialize the intent of the design.

So the question arises; Is Gamification a legitimate topic in itself, or is it merely a distraction from a much more complex topic we should be focusing on?

Well it is true that marketing people have been using these techniques for some time now. If you've ever seen a soft drink with "1 in every 4 caps is a winner" or "enter the code online to gain points towards free products" you have seen 'gamification' at work. But then, marketing guru's have often used techniques they found effective long before we ever completely understood the science about how they work. As the psychology starts to catch up, we learn more specifically why we do the things that we do and why certain techniques have been so effective in the past.

If these concepts have been around for so long, how come its only now that we are starting to see the term Gamification pop up?

Well because its only now that we've begun to consider using these techniques in places outside of marketing and video games. Our understanding of psychology in the mainstream and business world is only just catching up to realizing that the type of things that motivates a more productive person isn't necessarily what we've always commonly believed it to be.

The reason that the term gamification is tied so closely to gaming, comes from how strongly it draws on the systems developed for games; most recognizably reward systems such as points and leveling. It then applies those systems to non-gaming situations. This doesn't mean you have to turn every real life situation into a game to be effective, it could simply be a change to a user interface.

For instance, recently an electric car was released whose dashboard included a little LED plant. The more efficiently you were able to drive the car, the more this little LED plant would light up and 'grow'. By itself this isn't really a game, but the visual feed back to the driver would help compel them to drive more economically. There is even currently research being put into a full HUD (heads up display) for a car windshield.

The game industry has a head start on developing these types of techniques and design. They are a billion dollar industry that has dedicated a lot of time and resources into creating better user interface, engagement compelling systems, and psychologically targeted motivational rewards. Most importantly they've figured out how to do so leveraging modern technology; something a number of older institutions are still struggling to get a grasp of.

Once people can get past the association to games, the "Are games art?" argument, and accept it as a mature medium; I believe that the term Gamification should absolutely be accepted; as we continue on in applying these concepts developed for gaming into more real life situations.

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