The Gamification of Life

Mark Stephens

It’s not just app developers, game distributors, social media platforms and mobile device makers who have pricked up their ears and opened their eyes at the social gaming revolution. All sorts of areas of life – both personal and professional - are starting to become interested in gaming as a way to communicate, teach, train and engage. ‘Gamification’ - it’s the new buzz word!


What is Gamification?

Ever been to a job interview where you were asked what you thought of the company’s Facebook game or to a training course where you were rewarded for completing a new level in an online leadership game?

If so, you’ve been gamified!

Gamification is a term that was first used by Nick Pelling in 2002, but has become more common since the rise of social gaming, around 2010. It is generally defined as the use of game thinking and game mechanics in traditionally non-game contexts.

From the Gym to the Office

Gamification can appear practically anywhere these days. Don’t be surprised if you are walking down the street one day and, just as you get ready to cross the road, a screen pops out at the pedestrian crossing and you need to complete a short puzzle before you’re allowed to cross.
Seriously though, hundreds of organisations are adopting gaming as a way to reach out to employees, potential employees, and potential customers.

Games have been used to promote healthy lifestyles for instance – Aetna’s game Mindbloom aims to improve health and fitness by rewarding good lifestyle choices to keep your ‘tree of life’ green. Other games reward employees for going to the gym or beating their personal best running times, for instance. They have also been used to increase social awareness for causes like recycling or reducing carbon emissions.
Before you arrive in your workplace, even before interview stage, you may have been exposed to gaming too.

As part of its recruitment drive Marriott developed a hotel-themed game available on Facebook, based around the concept of The Sims where players juggle the responsibilities of a hotel kitchen manager. This is a far-sighted policy of engaging young users and getting them interested in a career in hospitality – especially those based in emerging markets, who may not be aware of the possibilities within hospitality.

Within the workplace, figures show alarming levels of disengagement among employees. Gallup reported in 2012 that over 70 percent of American workers are ‘not engaged’ or are ‘actively disengaged’ in their work.


HR departments are increasingly turning to gaming as a way to increase engagement and motivation levels. For example, Deloitte partnered with gamification-software company Badgeville to help create leadership development program games. These increase the sense of accomplishment during the learning process.

Other organisations, from traditional heavyweights like SAP and EMC to relatively new players like Spotify and LivingSocial, have also successfully implemented gamification to improve employee communication processes.

The growing potential of gaming

Researchers from Elon University created a report called The Future Of Gamification a few years ago where they predicted that the principles of gamification could be used to improve creativity, learning, participation and motivation. They suggested that the fields of education, wellness, marketing and communications could all benefit.

One of the key attractions is that it crosses divides of age, sex, race, and religion – almost everyone seems to find gaming fun and engaging, as social gaming has proven. It has become a binding force that can improve relationships and can therefore be used to do a lot of good; we are beginning to see just the first shoots of what’s possible.

At the same time as bringing people together, gaming involves an element of healthy competition. This can be a big motivator for many of us who like to pit our wits against others, gain points or ‘rewards’ for a job well done, and feel a sense of achievement at completing a task.
These two elements combined mean that gaming can help to reward desired behaviour or learning progress, and will continue to play an important role in the fields of learning, training and development, and social awareness.

In January of this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that:

‘all evidence suggests that your work one day will operate like a videogame to be conquered, rather than a craft to be perfected.’

This may be an exaggeration and some people may feel threatened by this trend, including the writer of that article, but I guess they can just choose not to play the game.