The word “gamification” is popping up all over the Internet and business world.  The idea is that if you can make a process into a game with rewards and detailed stats, you can make that process more compelling.  If it is more compelling you will keep coming back to it, and then it becomes a habit.

Unsurprisingly, actual games do gamifying best; game makers have years of experience consuming and creating games.  But gamification can apply to a number of different areas.  Social check-in services use the idea of points and badges to keep people using their applications.  SalesForce.com has actually implement game like elements in their software to keep workers focused on getting “next steps” done.  Many web sites employ a progress meter to encourage new users to complete a number of steps so they will explore and gets the most out of a product.

Some would say that if you have to turn something into a game, then it likely isn’t worth doing on its own.  While there might be some truth to that, gamification can actually be used to get people to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t, and those actions can provide real value to themselves and others.

Turning activity and fitness into a game.

FitBit sitting on its charger stand.One area I have explored gamification for my own life is weight loss and exercise.  Experts for years have recommended writing down what you eat, how much you exercise and how much you weigh.  If you are more advanced, they also recommend body fat measurement.  Not surprising if you track these things on a regular basis, they become a great part of your consciousness, and you also see the improvements based on your actions.

It isn’t easy to find time to chart all of these things, so it is great that technology is allowing us to find easier ways to accomplish this.  In terms of activity and sleep, FitBit is a small pager like device that you simply clip to your clothing.  It uses a Wii-like sensor to track your movement throughout the day and even at night.  Your daytime activity is tracked like a pedometer.  So you can see how active you are and how much you moved on any given day.  At night, the FitBit tracks how you sleep, how much you move and can provide suggestions based on the data it accumulates.

Even better, you don’t have to plug the FitBit into your computer every day.  As part of the package you get a wireless receiver that plugs into your computer and whenever the FitBit is in range, it transfers the data.  You do have to charge the FitBit every three to four days, but this is a huge improvement over plugging a device in daily.

We know Foursquare has game elements. How about Twitter?

Example @ mentions (i.e. rewards) from my LLSocial Twitter account.Another area that gamification has been helpful is in social media.  Something doesn’t even have to be designed as a game to create the characteristics of one.

When I first got started using Twitter (my favorite form of social media), I kept using it early on because I kept getting followers.  Some of those followers were undoubtedly bots or completely random, but some of them were real people in my community.  I didn’t know if they were actually reading what I was saying, but this was a tiny bit of positive feedback (a reward if you will) that kept me posting thoughts and links I found interesting.

As I continued to use Twitter, I got additional feedback in the form of @ mentions and retweets.  That meant that at least a few people were actually reading what I was saying and found it useful or interesting enough to take action on.

Twitter isn’t a game per say, but it mimicks a game because it slowly provided rewards based on positive actions.  The rewards built up over time as I read what people I followed posted, engaged them on their content and appreciated when they did the same.

I think Twitter is valuable enough that I would have kept using it without all these little rewards, but I am not 100% on that.  Those who know me well, will tell you that my inquisitive nature makes it so I can jump from idea to idea without following through.  I am happy to say that everything in my life doesn’t have to be a game, and that I have enough discipline to work on projects that aren’t fun.  But having some type of loop that provides positive feedback, is useful for me. This is especially true when accomplishing more difficult and multi-step tasks like weight loss, writing and even exploring unfamiliar situations and applications.

Want to write more? Gamify it.

A look at just some of the stats 750 Words provides.In addition to FitBit one additional “product” I would like to share is a website that gamifies writing.  It is called 750 Words.  The basis of this free “game” is that you are asked to write 750 words a day.  Their interface is simple and easy to use.  You get badges for consistently meeting your goals, and like many good games, it provides tons of stats so you can see your progress in great details.

I know I can write without turning it into a game.  But how powerful is it to turn something so important into a daily habit with small rewards thrown in.

If you have written in the past, write now or just want to write more consistently, I recommend checking out 750 Words.  And yes, this blog post was origionally created using 750 Words.

Gamification is a buzz word for good reasons.

Maybe Fitbit and 750 Words aren’t the right fit for you, but if you want to tackle a difficult task or a part of your life where you have had occasional or minimal success in the past, considering typing in to Google what you want to accomplish along with “gamification”.  Games aren’t just kids play if they actually help accomplish your goals.

Do you have examples where a game like system helped you accomplish a goal?  Do you think gamification is meaningful or just another fad?  I would appreciate hearing your thoughts in the comments.

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5 Responses to How you can exercise, write and communicate more by making it a game.

  1. This is a well-written, interesting post. I am going to share it with my friends and students. And thank you for introducing me to 750words.com. I recently ordered The Artist's Way and I believe it will work well with 750words. My life is a bit hectic, so I'm always looking for a workable/doable way to stay organized with, if nothing else, my writing.

  2. avatar Bailey says:

    Twitter, in whatever way the user wants, does offer a "reward". Maybe not so much much reward but a satisfaction of some kind. No matter what you do in life, you get something out of it. You work for money (and hopefully for some pleasure/satisfaction/fulfillment). I use twitter for meeting new people, relationships and for fun/enternatinment.

    So, gamification definitely seems to be a fad phrase, but I don't think the concept is new.

    I might check out 750 words. I like that idea. How many tweets do you need for that many words?! :)

  3. avatar Josh Davis says:

    Julia and Baliey – Thanks for the comments.

    Julia – I do think it is useful to have something like 750 Words to establish a routine of writing. I know you already write on a regular basis, but as you say, having something structured can help. Hope your friends and students get some use out of it. You will have to let me know what you think of the book you mentioned.

    Bailey – Totally agree on the satisfaction idea. Gamification seems to be geared toward shortening the amount of time between action and some level of satisfaction or reward. And to answer your question: 54. ;)

  4. avatar Brian Fenton says:

    I'm really surprised to see an article on gamification that didn't mention Jane McGonigal 8^) She seems to be the patron saint of that movement lately with her work on using games for social change in Africa and other areas.

    I do think that the FitBit would be a more effective tool than a Wii Fit, since it requires less of a change to implement. I know energy companies are saying that just knowing the amount of energy you're using causes a 5-15% reduction in use, I imagine that 'information leads to improvement" idea would carry over to calories taken in/burned as well.

    Also, 2nd heading should be "Turning" instead of "Turing" and it's "Wii-like"

  5. avatar Josh Davis says:

    Hey Brian,

    Thanks for the comments.

    I am not familiar with Jane Mcgonigal's work. I will make it a point to check it out.

    You make a great point on energy use. I had seen that information before, but never really connected it to this topic. Awareness leading to change makes intuitive sense.

    Thank you for the spelling corrections. I got them changed.

    Josh