It's been trendy for the past few years to "gamify" your life, but should it be necessary at all?
For the past several years, there's been a trend to "gamify" every aspect of your life. While gamification can be truly useful, I think it's poorly implemented for the most part and wish it would stop except where it truly makes sense.
As an aside, I'll disclaim at the start that I find the neologism "gamification" to be awkward and rather unpleasant. But I'll stick with it for the sake of consistency, if nothing else.
Gamification, for the uninitiated, employs the concept of game mechanics to engage you in desired behavior, especially when it comes to receiving awards and rewards for completing tasks.
I admit that I've been bitten by the gamification bug a few times. I remember my first Palm device came with a game — literally a game — called Giraffe. Giraffe encouraged you to learn how to use Graffiti, the text input system used on the Palm, but playing a game that had you blast words as you saw them, by writing them in the Graffiti system. That's perhaps a quite literal example of gamification — learning a practical (if somewhat specialized) skill by playing a game.
Gamification has been used to benefit in recent years. Foldit is one outstanding example. Foldit is a crowdsourced science research project that studies protein folding, used in both drug design and disease research. Foldit turns protein folding into a game that participants can play; the working theory is that people can intuitively figure out solutions to tricky protein folding problems more efficiently than brute-force computing can.
Gamification techniques have also successfully been implemented in corporate training programs. Even the hugely popular educational site Khan Academy uses gamification to encourage students to improve their abilities by following skill trees on their "Learning Dashboard," a mechanism similar to that used in role playing games to improve character abilities.
Fitness devices often incorporate game mechanics into their software, so you can unlock achievements and compare your workout schedule to your friends, for example. Social networking services rely on gaming concepts like achievements and badges to get you to participate.
Where makers of software and devices often fail, however, is trying to turn the mundane into something fun and engaging. The quickest way to get me to stop using your product is to make it go from something I want to use to a chore. The most pleasurable thing in the world eventually becomes mundane or even loathsome if it's forced on you over and over again.
Take fitness wearables, for example. Endeavour Partners estimates that more than half of the devices people have purchased to track their activity go unused after six months. Clearly the gamified elements of using these devices - the social and goal reinforcement elements - have failed to resonate with a very large percentage of their users.
Part of my concern is the indiscriminate use of gamification. Not every aspect of our lives needs to be gamified in order for us to do it. I don't need to gamify doing my laundry or my grocery purchases or maintenance on my car to make those events something that need to be done routinely, yet there are apps and services that try to do exactly that. I certainly don't want my career reduced to gamified targets, but that's exactly what's happened in some enterprise environments..
Gamification can be used to solve problems — in some cases, important ones — and it can, under the right circumstances, give you the motivation you need to succeed at whatever task you've set up for yourself. Applied wrong, gamification can have the opposite effect, demotivating you and turning routine events and tasks into chores you want to avoid.
Gamification, especially once it's institutionalized, can ultimately lead to a sense of dread, even paranoia, thinking that every aspect of how you work and live needs to be measured and quantified. That can stifle your creativity and your flexibility.
No game is fun forever. Your attention shifts to other things, and your expectation for reward continues to increase, eventually to an unreachable level. Gamification may work for some people and some tasks in the short term, but I don't think it's a sustainable trend.
At least I hope not. What does gamification ultimately say about us societally? That we need to be coaxed into appropriate adult behavior by being promised rewards? Extrinsic motivation is transitory and temporary. Eventually the motivation needs to be intrinsic — finding the task rewarding for its own sake, not for a virtual pat on the head.
Does gamification work for you? Or are you as over it as I am? Let me know in the comments.