Can ‘Gamification’ Really Help Us Live Healthier?

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Gamification is the new buzz word for this decade – It is the concept that you can apply the basic elements that make games fun and addictive to things that typically aren’t considered a game. leading gamification expert, Gabe Zichermman just recently wrote an article predicting what would be the hot trends we would see in 2011 around this concept.

Guess what #1 was? “Health Get’s more Fun”. Could we not talk about more perfect timing? I had the fortunate pleasure to meet Gabe on October 21st at the local DC Founder Institute session on Products and Services. Gabe happens to be a mentor for the NY group and we were lucky enough to have him participate in our city as well. I told him all about Nexercise and the goals we were trying to accomplish. In fact, I wonder if talking to us, sparked him to put this up front!

Plain and simple, “Nexercise’s make’s fitness fun and wellness affordable”™. We’ve been looking at this space for quite some time, and we see gamification as one key element in the process. But take a look deeper into our core value proposition… ‘making fitness fun’ is only a start in tackling one of the nation’s most serious problems.

A gamification system for tasks that require minimal effort, such as browsing a website and reading articles can probably achieve sticky results quite easily. Companies like Badgeville and OneTrueFan try to achieve this and bring value to companies for tasks we pretty much do daily anyway. But, getting over the barrier of inactivity has always been a challenge for physical fitness initiatives. An object at rest tends to stay at rest, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion.

We are realists here at Nexercise and believe wellness needs more than just gamification. It’s easy to ‘check-in’ or read news online, but it’s not easy to put on workout clothes, and muster up the energy to exert physical activity that potentially will leave you sweaty! We’re working hard to give people the marriage they want. See our prior blog post: Exercise needs to be: Fun, Simple, and (drumroll) Rewarding. Creative thinking is needed to break the grip that inertia has on people, and truly sustain motivation.

Let’s face it a ‘stinkin badge’ realy isn’t enough. Did you realize the concept of a ‘badge’ was pioneered long before Foursquare made reference to the Boy Scouts? It’s a virtual token that is used to display your accomplishments. It serves as a method of giving a sense of progressive accomplishement, as well as social validation as others can view these “badges”. If you’ve ever played Mafia Wars by Zynga, your profile inventory is technically a set of badges in disguise. It becomes a trophy showcase of your collection of rare items you collected throughout the game. The power of the Zynga inventory item ‘badge’ is that it actually affects game play, therefore you can continually appreciate the value of an item, and it can retain its luster long after acquisition. When Zynga recently changed the profile page to no longer display a long display of your items, players revolted. They hadn’t realized they single handedly removed their badge system!

We commend products like OptumizeMe for trying to use other game mechanics to take on this daunting fitness challenge. OptumizeMe, uses competition to try to inspire better fitness behaviors. Look at FourSquare. Competition is the fundamental driver behind the concept of their mayor system. It’s a virtual ‘King of the Hill’, where ‘There can only be one!’. Is this enough for fitness? Maybe for the die hard folks who are already competitive in nature or between people who are of equal footing (e.g. The Biggest Loser). Competition needs to be tread upon lightly as it can actually be a de-motivator, if you know you can’t win. In the book ‘Art of Game Design’, Jessie Schell references: Bartle’s Taxonomy of Player Types – Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, and Killers. Competition appeals most to those who trend toward Killers and Achievers, which happens to be a smaller segment of the general population. Remember, competition is just one potential piece of a whole gamification eco-system.

I’ll wrap up here with this: numerous methods of psychological manipulation (yes we are being manipulated :)) are employed within games to make them sticky. Commitment, Social Norms and Competition, are but a few techniques that can be leveraged now more than ever due to the fact that our social networks are so easily accessed via technology. However, we must realize that real effort must be rewarding for us to invest time. Thus, the more effort required, the better the potential rewards and outcomes must be to keep people engaged. We are not saying rewards must all be tangible, but people need to feel the rewards match the effort. Companies like BetterWorks are subscribing to this philosophy because, let’s face it, for the majority of the US population, doing things such as going to work and trying to squeeze workout in is not that fun. Furthermore with wellness, we are also fighting unhealthy alternatives that are tempting & rewarding, such as enjoying that extra slice of holiday pie, or sitting in front of the TV for another hour to watch that reality TV show after that unrewarding day at work. This is a daunting challenge!

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