Gamification: the next big thing?

One of the outstanding new terms in 2011 is “gamification”. The Oxford Dictionary recently placed “gamification” on its shortlist of buzz words 2011. “Gamification” just missed the prize (“squeezed middle” won), but still being nominated is a noteworthy achievement. Gamification is now at the same level as “bunga bunga-“, “Arab Spring”, “crowdfunding”, “clicktivism” and “Occupy”. The description of “gamification” by the Oxford Dictionary is a bit weird though, if not paradoxical: “the application of concepts and techniques from games for other areas of activity.” Just ask someone who uses a game if he or she intends to use it for other purposes too…

The idea of applying game elements in other areas than entertainment is an attractive one. We people do like playing games and games could help making rotten chores more attractive. We know that people are prepared to do the most boring jobs (complete surveys, collect stamps, click around for hours on a virtual farm, buy lottery tickets, send SMS-messages to talent shows, buy shares and so on) if only some sort of reward is coming into sight. Using game elements matches our natural predisposition to engage in play (home ludens). Gaming procures more involvement, enhances suspense and excitement, prompts us to desired behaviours and give us the feeling that our actions matter, in short, gaming help us to improve our performance and make our lives meaningful.

On radio and TV gamification has been going on for many years. Sports shows, talent scouting, quizzes, panel shows with or without celebrities, hidden cameras, quests: game elements are all over. It is conceivable that gamification is capable of effecting increased activity and involvement in businesses, schools, ministries and so on. Beyond doubt there is this undisputed promise. The thing that bothers me though is why on the one hand we consider humans as superior cognitive beings capable of self-appraisal and goal-oriented behaviours, while on the other hand we’ld want to use all these simple, sometimes even childish incentives to encourage people to do the actions they are reluctant to do. It seems we treat ourselves as if we were dogs that need to be challenged by sausages just out of reach or rats that are set to run on a treadmill. Extrinsic motivation is always worse than intrinsic motivation.

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