What the heck is ‘gamification’?

What is ‘gamification’ and how would that possibly apply to the nonprofit world?

Video gaming has been around since the 1940’s when scientists developed an analog game (yes there was a time before digital!) to simulate missiles being fired during Second World War. There were a few other primitive games developed in the following decades, but video gaming really took off in the 1970’s when Atari released the smash hit Pong.

Since this time, gaming has become ever more sophisticated in terms of the animation, strategy, Internet-based multi-player versions, virtual reality and many more innovative ways to engage players that are constantly being developed. Now, you may be asking yourself, “What does any of this have to do with digital media and my nonprofit?”

We’ll get to that in just a minute.

There’s an entire discipline that has arisen around how to get players hooked on video games and to get them coming back time and time again. The marketing expression for how you use this strategy in your game is to “drive deep user engagement.”

These strategies have developed over time into what’s known as “game mechanics”. This has become quite sophisticated in the way that its done, incorporating all types of human psychological factors to increase play.

For a very elementary example, in the corporate environment these principals of game mechanics could be used for applications that employees frequently use during the course of their day. For each task, say entering a new donor in a database, points could be awarded, and a leader board online could show the individuals that have accumulated the most points. Then, an award could be given, each week, each month and so on. This introduces a bit of competition into the work environment and also gives acknowledgement and visibility to the best performers.

The use of game mechanics in technology and marketing coined a new term in 2002; “gamification”. It is a relatively new idea, and a new term, just having entered lexicon a few short years ago. Essentially what it means is using these game design techniques in non-game applications.

According the Oxford Dictionary the definition of gamification is:

[mass noun]
“The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service: gamification is exciting because it promises to make the hard stuff in life fun.”

The use of gamification in other technologies is moving into the mainstream of other types of business and marketing applications.

In September 2012, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), one of the major global accounting and consulting firms, published a white paper on how to effectively use gamification in the corporate environment. Using these techniques takes some thought, planning, and design, and will certainly put your organisation on the cutting edge. Also in 2012, just after the U.S. presidential elections, there was discussion on how to use gamification to help get a better voter turnout.