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The Gamification Revolution is Already Here


Eugene Gan - published on 08/01/13

No longer just for young males, gaming has spread to all sectors of society. While gaming techniques can be used for good, like helping to find a cure fore AIDS, there can also be a darker side. Are you becoming gamified?

Think video games are all about kids? Wrong. The average age of a video gamer is now 37, and consumers spent $20.77 billion on video games, hardware, and accessories in 2012. 77% of American households own video games. And just in case you’re misled into believing that this is a phenomenon only in the US, here are a couple more interesting numbers: China has the largest number of gamers, and 66% of the population of Germany are active gamers. You can be sure businesses across the board are paying attention.

Think video games are all about boys? Wrong. According to the latest report from the Entertainment Software Association, it’s not just about boys as forty-five percent of all game players are in fact women, with women over the age of 18 representing a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (31 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (19 percent).

Think you can avoid video games in your day-to-day life? You can try, but it’s just going to get increasingly difficult to avoid. What’s more, video game-like thinking is increasingly the underlying philosophy that online social media is built on. It’s called “gamification” and it’s set to permeate our media, our entertainment, our education system, and the work place, not to mention potentially change the way we interact with life itself. In fact, you’ve likely already encountered it, perhaps without even realizing it. It’s precisely because video games are now so ubiquitous in our culture that it’s created the perfect setting for gamification to take hold and bloom. Gamification is the new social media. It’s the zeitgeist of our age. It’s in the air. You’re breathing it (or choking on it). It’s surreal, scary, and exciting all at the same time.

Gamification is not about creating video games per se. It is, by popular definition, the application of video game thinking and practices (i.e., game design, mechanics, theory, and techniques) to non-gaming activities and processes, with the aim of finding new and creative ways to solve problems and engage audiences. In other words, it’s taking the best principles and practices of games like Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, and The Sims and putting these to use in creating everything from websites that’ll keep you coming back, to Frequent Flyer mileage programs that keep you “leveling up,” to diet and exercise plans that get you excited about leading a healthy life, to that infernal timer that counts down the number of seconds you have left to purchase that as-seen-on-tv, once-in-a-lifetime, lowest-price-ever item that entices you to reach for the phone (or click “Buy now!”).

How might gamification achieve all this? There’s a whole host of gamification design principles going around, each vying for prominence in the marketplace because there are as many ways to gamify as there are ideas for how to make something fun and engaging. One of my favorite examples involves playing an online puzzle game called Foldit that has players worldwide collaborating to fold protein molecules in three dimensions. The goal? Find optimal patterns or states in the protein structures (seriously, this can be really fun for people who enjoy puzzles). But that’s not all; the real clincher is that it’s in fact a multiplayer crowd-sourcing experiment in which players are solving actual scientific research problems. In particular, scientists spent 15 years trying to unlock the structure of an AIDS-related protein that, if solved, would represent a significant step forward in curing retroviral diseases. When Foldit went online (or viral, you might say – pardon the pun), players solved the puzzle in 10 days. That’s 15 years versus 10 days, folks. Gamification wins.

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