Gamification has become a buzzword this year, although it was coined back in 2002 by Nick Pelling. It has been widely used since about 2010, but I think we haven’t seen it used so often (and maybe sometimes so carelessly) as we have this past year. What is it with gamification that it has gotten so popular?

What is gamification?

Let’s start with the official definition of the term, as given by Oxford Dictionaries.

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

I suppose we could stop at the example sentence. Gamification promises to make things fun.

But does it, really?

There are so many areas where gamification is applied. Last year, Mashable put together a list of “winning examples” of gamification. The most recognizable example is Foursquare. Indeed, how many times have you used the app just so you could earn badges and oust someone else as a mayor of the location?

Gamification also has made its way to more “serious” applications. Technology giant IBM is known for its use of Bunchball’s Nitro. Generally recognized as the most advanced gamification engine there is, Nitro aims to enhance the experiences of employees and clients alike. Even health plan provider Blue Shield has lauded gamification and its merits.

It’s all about psychology.

Gabe Zichermann, author of “Gamification by Design” puts it simply: Gamification is 75% psychology and 25% technology.

I wouldn’t know about the accuracy of the percentages, but the idea does make sense. Even kids tend to do their chores and other unpleasant tasks if they are presented in a fun manner. It has been described as tricking them into doing something they wouldn’t do otherwise, but isn’t that what gamification is?

I leave you with a personal example. I dislike exercising. I know it’s good and all that, but it just doesn’t appeal to me as much as, say, playing Pocket Planes on the iPad. But guess what? I am actually seriously looking at getting Striiv, the fitness tracker that comes with an iOS game which you can’t really play without doing some physical activity. If that isn’t gamification at work, then I don’t know what is!

[Image via Calvin Ayre]