Gamification in a nutshell and gaming to save the real world

Gamification has been infiltrating websites, apps, and user experiences everywhere for several years. So what is it?

Gamification is the use of gaming elements in non-gaming experiences. The goal is usually to make things seem more fun or more productive. Subtle progress bars and points systems encourage you to keep going, while achievements and badges reward your brain for ‘winning.’ When done right, it works well, increasing conversions and adherence.

Well-designed gamification can be very effective, and poorly designed gamification can be very flat. I think, in general, it is important to keep a focus on meaning and content. Don’t reward meaningless tasks, and don’t provide content as a reward unless it is well-thought out and worthwhile.

Good gamifcation examples include FourSquare’s ‘Mayorships’, Codecademy’s badges and progress bars, and just about all of Khan Academy and Lumosity. Simulators and educational training tools are the perfect medium for gamified experience, and the future of education. Videogame addiction is an example of gamification being (perhaps too) successful, via the incredibly detailed breakdown and balance of achievements and rewards in games like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft.

In this incredible TED talk, Jane McGonigal talks about how gaming can save the world. She describes the concentration, intensity, and sense of urgency that gamers achieve when problem solving. McGonigal has a dream: she believes we can transform gaming problem-solving into real world problem-solving. Gaming often brings out the hardest-working, fastest-thinking, and most selfless version of ourselves. For more on harnessing the power of our brains on games, check out McGonigal’s book: Reality is Breaking.

An amazing example of gaming for the world is FoldIt. FoldIt is a game about protein folding that applies real-world physics, biology, and chemistry to interactive molecules. Players are challenged to find the lowest-energy state of the molecule, and gain points as more energy is released (due to changes in the orientation of the molecules). The project has a huge success story, as a team of players was able to find a piece of a puzzle that scientists started looking for over 10 years ago. Start solving puzzles for science here.