[image courtesy ]
We humans are simple creatures
Like our beloved pooches, we respond to rewards. The carrot is better than the stick. Give us something we like, and we’re more likely to play ball. And like Pavlov’s proverbial dog, if you keep rewarding us, we’ll get in the habit.
As Iain observed in his absolutely cracking talk at Playful 08, it’s all about the scores. Scores work in real life as much as in games.
As simple creatures who like being rewarded, and who like playing infinitely more than we like working, why aren’t gaming principles used more in real life? We can see the proverbial carrots everywhere – whether more basic rewards such as frequent flier miles or loyalty card points, or more sophisticated initiatives such as Pru Health’s Vitality scheme whereby the more you go to the gym, the lower your insurance premium. But it’s a basic action to reward model. The introduction of a sense of play into the equation takes you to an entirely new level.
At last year’s Gamecamp Justin Hall bemoaned the fact that he gets rewarded in game play, but doesn’t get the satisfaction of such rewards in his everyday life. Enter Chore Wars – an online game where you can earn “experience” points for various household chores – the more points, the more you advance in the game, hence the more housework you do, the more you’re rewarded. Geek heaven. It bloody rocks. Even though I am the saddo who quite likes cleaning the bathroom.
Play can be directed to real benefit. And rewards for real everyday activity. Like the rather fantastic Bayer Didget. It’s hard to maintain a regular habit of pretty much anything that isn’t really fun. We’re great at remembering to eat things that are bad for us and to enjoy that crafty fag, but not so good at remembering the tiresome tasks, day in day out. How do you encourage kids with diabetes to get into the habit of checking their blood glucose on a regular basis?
Why, you game it of course.
The Didget rewards consistent testing habits with points – which can then be used on games on their Nintendo DS or on Bayer’s ‘New Web Community’. (Their term, not mine. Ahem). Kids can earn points through regular daily testing, and can get bonus points if they’re within their target range, and the longer they stick with their testing regimen over time. They can then use the points to purchase items in the games and unlock mini-games hosted on the Bayer site.
Because points are all well and good, and there’s no doubt that the element of competition is a pretty good incentive to keep racking up those points, to beat that high score. But what really works is when points mean something. And as the good Mr Forsyth always told us, points mean prizes.
The explosion in personal informatics mean we keep scores for increasingly diverse everyday habits and activities. And at the moment, whether it’s Nike+ or Nintendo Wii Fit for exercise, or Fiat Eco Drive for fuel-efficient driving, the thrill of beating our personal best – or the scores of our peers – is incredibly seductive. And of course the payoff isn’t just in the achievement of the score itself – there are tangible personal benefits, from getting fitter to driving more efficiently.
Gaming real life works. It’s not just the Hawthorne effect – although that’s undoubtedly a huge factor. But play is good. And as Henry Jenkins observed at SXSW 09, games are a gateway drug to learning. Initiatives like the Didget, or Zyked (which mashes up gaming incentives with exercise), make things we don’t want to do more rewarding and enjoyable. We get an immediate payoff, as well as the longer-term benefits we know rationally should be motivation enough, but because we’re simple creatures, just aren’t. So imagine the possibilities for brands, businesses and government, if playfulness was seen as an integral design element, rather than something merely frivolous?