The concept of gamification has gained in prominence since the beginning of this decade but what is gamification? What can it be used for? And what are the benefits of applying gamification in your organisation?

What is gamification?

Inspired by video games and video game development – gamification is defined as the use of game designs in non-game contexts to improve user experience and user engagement. Organisations are increasingly using gamification to make it easier (and fun) for example, for people to enhance their health and wellness profile for rewards and benefits from their medical insurance, for lower car insurance premiums by improving their driving behaviour and accumulating helpful helper points on their favourite GPS tool when they alert other road users of hazards and traffic conditions.

Gamification is a tool that, when used correctly and appropriately, should assist organisations and their stakeholders in achieving mutually beneficial results in a fun and sustainable way.

How does gamification influence our behaviour?

While Gamification is primarily enabled through the use of technology (using apps, collecting data and sharing information), applied gamification is actually approximately 75% psychology and 25% technology. Gamification taps into the psychological behaviours that govern our day-to-day activities. From a neuroscientific perspective, gamification affects us in the following ways:

  1. Hippocampus: The hippocampus is an area in the lower section of the brain which is largely responsible for knowledge recall. In clinical tests, gameplay has been shown to stimulate the hippocampus. In other words, when completing puzzles and games, it allows the brain to become more flexible when using different information.
  2. Dopamine: Dopamine is the “feel-good” hormone that is released whenever we are rewarded for a specific action. Gamification has the potential to provide instantaneous feedback (like a 5-star rating for an Uber Driver or an Airbnb review) as well as an instant release of dopamine. By giving virtual rewards for achieving goals, participants begin to associate rewarded achievements with positive emotions, prompting them to try to repeat it.
  3. Oxytocin: One of the key components of a compelling game is a good story. People tend to remember stories better than lists of unconnected facts. This isn’t just a matter of preference; it’s a physiological imperative. When we are engaged in a strong narrative, the brain releases oxytocin – a chemical that generates feelings of trust and empathy. As a result, when the brain receives information presented as a story, it recognises it as being more valid.
  4. Serotonin: Serotonin is a hormone that governs our overall mood. Aside from being released when we eat, serotonin release is also triggered by remembering past successes. The badges and rewards of gamification allow users to get a serotonin dose on demand whenever they look at rewards they have earned.
  5. Endorphins: The thrill and excitement of playing a game is the result of endorphins being released. Endorphins are not only the body’s natural painkiller, they can also lower stress and anxiety levels, and even create a sense of euphoria.

Thanks to our biochemistry, it’s little wonder that well-designed games can be so addictive,  and can prompt learning and engagement. According to Daniel Pink and his concept of Motivation 3.0, people are driven to learn, to create and to better the world. Gamification is intimately related to the components of Motivation 3.0 – mastery, autonomy and purpose:

  1. Mastery: Mastery refers to the urge to improve one’s skills continuously. Badges and points serve to remind employees that they have done well at something and that, if they continue pursuing achievement, they will attain a higher level or status in the game.
  2. Autonomy: Autonomy refers to the need to be self-directed. Without some level of freedom in decision-making, employees stagnate and will struggle to get motivated – their creativity will decrease and they will cease to engage with the task at hand. A gamified system can tackle this by offering employees choices. For instance, employees should have the freedom to design their own profile or complete missions when they have time.
  3. Purpose: Purpose refers to the desire to do work that is meaningful and important. Rewarding employees for using the system can reinforce the idea that there is a purpose behind completing missions.

References:

Denny, J. (2014).  Gamification: Intrinsic motivation for lasting engagement. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/gamification-intrinsic-motivation-lasting-engagement

Growth Engineering. (2017).  The neuroscience of gamification. Retrieved from http://www.growthengineering.co.uk/the-neuroscience-of-gamification-in-online-learning/

Pickard, T. (2016). 5 statistics that prove gamification is the future of the workplace. Retrieved from https://www.business.com/articles/5-statistics-that-prove-gamification-is-the-future-of-the-workplace/

Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. London: Canongate.

Thompson, C. (2016). It’s all fun & games: gamification is what’s next for employee performance management. Retrieved from https://www.quantumworkplace.com/future-of-work/its-all-fun-games-gamification-is-whats-next-for-employee-performance-management

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