The Application of Gamification in Different Fields

Published: 2021-08-02 03:25:06
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Category: Human resources, Games, Behavior

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In recent years gamification has emerged as a design trend that has been used in many spheres. It promotes the use of game design elements in the organization of everyday events, tasks and interactions. Gamification has received an increased attention in recent years, since it is seen as a way to influence behavior, stimulate engagement and increase motivation in achieving goals and completing tasks. However, it has also been seen as a controversial topic which received a lot of criticism. Which raises many questions, such as: Is gamification insufficient? What is the impact of gamification? Is it effective enough? Thus, in this paper I will try to answer those questions and provide a brief overview of gamification, alongside with outlines of its application. I will achieve this by examining the impact of gamification, where it is being used, and its support and criticism.
Gamification has been defined by Sebastian Deterding (2014) as “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts”. In his paper, he compares gamification with games but not with “play”. In this case, “play can be seen as a broader category than games. The distinction between both terms dates back to the concept of “ludus” and “paidia” being the two poles of play activities, created by Roger Callois (2001). In his book “Man, Play and Games” he describes “paidia” as a more free-form and expressive type of play, whereas “ludus” is a type of play that is structured by rules and competitive strive towards defined goals. However, many academic critiques of gamification have emphasized that these focus almost exclusively on design elements for rule-bound, goal-oriented play (ludus), with little space for open, exploratory, free-form play (paidia).Since then is has become a very popular concept that has had a good share of supporters and critiques. But why is that? What makes gamification so appealing? Currently, gamification is highly applied in many fields – academic, business, marketing etc. Nicholson (2015) suggests that this type of gamification systems that operate based on adding points, badges and achievements, has a short-term effectiveness. However, it succeeds in encouraging positive behavior and stimulating the users to engage with the real world in order to earn the said rewards. Rewards have been used as a motivational tools since centuries to encourage positive behavior. Many reward-based gamification systems create an immediate spike in engagement as users strive to explore it. As long as the organization is willing to continue supplying rewards, the behaviors can continue by those motivated to earn the rewards.
However, if the goal is to achieve long-term behavioral change, Nicholson (2015) suggests using “meaningful gamification” instead. This approach is based on the self-determination theory by Deci and Ryan (1985, 2004). It defines the use of extrinsic and intrinsic sources of motivation and examine how social and cultural conditions can suppress motivation. Therefore, in this framework they argue that, for example, users that are mainly motivated by intrinsic factors have less need for extrinsic motivation since they are motivated by the activity itself. However, users that rely on extrinsic motivational factors are driven by rewards such as badges and achievements. Thus, Nicholson argues that gamification may not be beneficial for all users, therefore, they should be able to choose how they want to demonstrate their abilities. To summarize, in order to achieve “meaningful gamification” the system should contain six elements: play, exposition, choice, information, engagement and reflection. The systems do not need to contain all of the given elements to be successful, however, the more elements it contains the more engaging it will be for the users. Over the years, there have been some good examples of how gamification could be used to encourage positive behavior, such as:

The Bottle Bank Arcade Machine, which is essentially a green recycling box that collects used glass bottles. It also has a display, which records the scores. The people are not only able to recycle their bottles, but they are also invited to play an old-fashioned arcade game with those bottles. The results showed that almost a hundred people used the Bottle Bank Machine in one evening.
The Speed Camera Lottery is another successful example. The Speed Camera Lottery machine photographed passing cars for the duration of three days. The citizens that were driving within the speed limit were automatically signed into a lottery, whereas those that were driving above the speed limit were issued with fines. As a result, the average driving speed was reduced with 22 percent.
Chore Wars – a computer game that focuses on receiving points in exchange for doing housework. In this game as members of households or workspaces, people complete individual tasks (“quests”) and level up. These points can later be exchanged for rewards such as gold or equipment or depending on the agreement of the group the points can be transformed into real-world rewards.

These, and many more examples available, prove that by adding fun to day-to-day activity, users can be persuaded to be more responsible, active and even healthier.
However, as mentioned before, gamification has faced many criticism over the years. One of the harsher critics of gamification has been Ian Bogost, co-founder of Persuasive Games. He argues that gamification has been developed to domesticate games in a way. He states that games are seen as risky and expensive investments for businesses, therefore capturing their “power and magic” and applying it to marketing concepts would provide them with the attention and inspiration that games usually get. Furthermore, Bogost sees “exploitationware” as a more suitable term to replace gamification. In his opinion, this is a more adequate explanation of such systems since it focuses on the businesses’ desire to earn profit by offering the clients meaningless engagement. (Bogost, 2015).
Moreover, Werbach & Hunter (2012), argue that gamification leads to what could be refer to as “pointification”. Which means adding points and achievements to applications without even understanding the meaning of them. They consider understanding the reasoning behind point-based systems as very important when designing applications. They also point out that some of the most successful gamified applications do not have a point-based system at all.
Furthermore, Werbach & Hunter question the users’ interest towards the concept. They wonder whether gamification will be a lasting trend. In addition, another concern is that gamification may be used to exploit people. Disneyland faced this situation in 2011 when they installed electronic leaderboards that displayed how quickly employees completed their tasks. The boards created a tense and competitive work environment and the leaderboards were often referred to as the “electronic whip”. While this may have been beneficial for Disneyland, as it may have resulted in improved efficiencies, it shows that there can be a fine line between what is considered gamification and what is considered exploitation.
After looking through, the positives and negatives of gamification raises the question does it actually work? Is it effective? Sailer et al. (2017), conducted research about the effects of gamification on motivation and satisfaction. They analyzed the different game design elements used in gamified system based on the self-determination theory developed by Deci and Ryan (1985,2002). This theory focuses on three basic psychological needs – the need for competence (refers to the feelings of sufficiency while interacting with the environment), the need for autonomy (refers to psychological freedom to fulfill a task) and the need for social relatedness (refers to the feelings of belonging and attachment to a group). The results show that certain design elements that are used in gamified systems have a positive effect on certain psychological needs of the users. For example, leaderboards, badges and performance graphs contribute to increasing the task meaningfulness. Unexpectedly, the use of point-system also created meaningfulness at game level. An important part is the fact that besides the game elements, the aesthetics and the quality of the applications’ design is also a factor when it comes to psychological satisfaction. Therefore, every part of the process of implementing gamification plays a crucial role. Finally, the conclusion of this research states that gamification is a useful tool, which could successfully be used to address motivational problems.
Furthermore, gamification has proven to be effective when used for educational purposes as well. In the University of Ulster (United Kingdom), they conducted a study for which they applied gamification mechanics to a compulsory course for computing science. The used mechanics were optional challenges, point-based system and immediate feedback. As a result, the passing rate of the course rose with 13%. The results showed that gamification improves the students’ motivation for studying and it was especially beneficial for the weaker students from the course. At the end, there was an increase in grades for all courses. The authors believed that there are two possibilities for that outcome. One is that the students were overall more motivated to study or the second one is that the benefits of gamification may have had an incidental effect on other courses as well (Charles et al., 2011).
Moreover, gamification has been successfully applied in the health industry as well. A study has been conducted by Cafazzo et al. in 2012, in which they developed a health app for iOS called mHealth for patients with type 1 diabetes. The app was provided to 20 patients aged 12-16 years. Via the app users were able to track their blood glucose levels. For every blood glucose test they would perform they were awarded with points. For every 200 points the patients were rewarded with App Store purchases. As a result, the average amount of measurements per day increased with 50%. However, there is space to debate whether the reason for positive outcome was due to the gamified elements or the monetary result.
Another example of the effects of gamification is research conducted by Thom, Millen and DiMicco (2012). They studied the effect by adding gamified mechanics to an enterprise social network and then removing them. The participants were divided in two groups – one had the option to earn points and the other couldn’t. The users who were able to collect point were more active by uploading photos, commenting, etc. After the test period was over, the point-system was made available to all users, however it was removed 10 months later. The researchers made a comparison of the activity with gamified mechanics and without. The results showed that since the removal of these mechanics the activity and user engagement on the enterprise website declined drastically, which is a clear indication that gamification improves the user engagement.
This paper examined the term gamification and possible applications of it. In order to get an in-depth overview of the concept I explored the supporters and critics of gamification, and the effectiveness of using it as a tool to persuade the users. I believe that including game mechanics into application is an effective way to achieve motivation and satisfy basic human desires. The rewards that gamification provides encourages the users to engage with communities and the real world. It stimulates creativity by allowing the participants to use their problem-solving skills in a simple in engaging way. I also believe that this helps by adding fun to normal activities that we encounter every day and makes them memorable. Moreover, from all the research I conducted I found many examples that proved that gamification is effective and can be applied to different spheres. However, to bring the ultimate experience every step of the process needs to be thought trough.

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