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Gamification: Games to Change the World

by Kathleen Monin

What if, by playing a video game, you could make the real world a better place to live? Author and game design Jane McGonigal seems to think we can do that through an approach called Gamification. This fancy word refers to attempts made by corporations and game designers that use the mechanics of video games to solve real world problems, or to better the lives of persons around the world.

 

Gamification for Human Good

For example, gamification can convince people to do things in a way that is better for them, not at out of abstract-seeming idea of health, but by making it a game. The folks at Volkswagen have approached gamification several times through a project called Fun Theory. In this example, the Piano Stairs, engineers rigged a set of metro stairs to make piano noises whenever each step was pressed. According to the video footage, for one day, suddenly more people decided to take the stairs instead of the escalator. Volkswagen has gone on to push this technique, finding even more ways to change how we live.

 

Gamification for Social Good

Another successful example is the Bottle Bank Arcade. In the united states, separating the trash is an extra step that is super tempting to skip. But, by setting up a receptacle with flashing lights and making recycling into a game, over a hundred people dropped off their bottles. Gamification has also helped to keep the stress safe through the Speed Camera Lottery. The camera takes an image of every license plate, and charges tickets to the cars that were speeding. The cars that don’t speed, however, are entered into a lottery to win some of the money from the drivers who were speeding. By making driving a game, overall safety increased. This Funny Bridge, much like the Piano Stairs, also helped keep traffic safe by encouraging pedestrians to stay out of traffic by using odd sounds.

 

Controversial Gamification

The gamification approach, however, is not always positiviely approached by consumers. Eventually the odd sounds of the Piano Stairs get old, and the novelty of the Bottle Bank Arcade wears off. Urban Dictionary very irritably describes gamification as “a cynical practice by [corporations] where workers are supposedly motivated to work even harder on menial, pointless tasks by rewarding them with lame titles, meaningless rankings, coupons or a variety of other real-life trash loot.” One website, dubbed Codebabes, is weathering accusations of sexism for its approach at gamification. The site contains instructional coding videos that use scantily clad girls as incentive for learning the material. These ideas are not necessarily Jane McGonigal’s vision. In her TED talk, she describes games which help people figure out how to solve the oil crises, or encourage the betterment of developing countries. If we push the gamification ideals beyond personal gain, and beyond simple tasks such as the speeding limit, perhaps gaming can change the world.

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