Have You Been Gamified?

A gamer. Likely the first image that flashes through your head is a recluse in a dimly lit room, carefully constructing the perfect fortress or barking orders into a headset – directing a squadron of cybernated soldiers to sweet, sweet victory. But, in many ways, you’re probably more of a gamer than you think.

Games have been around forever. The oldest chess piece dates from 465 A.D., excavated in a palace basement in Albania. From family game night to a round of “I Spy” or “20 Questions” to pass time on a road trip – you’ve been gaming since your adolescent years. In today’s culture, friendly competition has infected so many aspects of our lives. In the last few months you may have participated in a State of the Union drinking game, picked the Oscars, and filled in your annual March Madness bracket. It was hardly surprising that coinciding with the start of the “Big Dance,” an explosion of alternate brackets began circling the social-sphere, inspiring debates on everything from the best Disney movies to the best Mariah Carey singles.

We participate in these mini-games to increase our interest in things and events that, otherwise, may only command a passing glance in our busy lives. I just checked my fantasy baseball team. Without the game, who’s achieving the most success on the diamond would have never wandered through my brain today, or for matter, the past few years. The digital world has connected us to so much information, so much entertainment, and so many possibilities, that the best way for anything to capture our attention is to become a game.

Games create competition, and give us someone to cheer on. The only reason you can name an alpine skier or a figure skater is because you watched the Olympics and were following your country’s team, which, uncoincidentally, dominates Olympic coverage in your region.

In business, this can be used to your advantage. Gamification, or, the application of game design to non-game contexts, is an important new technique for success in today’s fast-paced digital world. As a consumer, you’ve been gamified already – whether you realize it or not. From the digital badges on Nike+, to the progress bar in your Mint account, to your current Starbucks level. These game mechanics, among others, are being consistently employed by market-leaders in their product development to increase engagement and attention among their customer base. If you’re not thinking about gamification in your product design – you should be.

Perhaps more importantly, adding elements of competition to internal projects can capture interest and boost productivity for you and your employees. This is often overlooked as leadership obsesses and struggles over how to halt decreases in productivity caused by new-age digital distractions. Instead, consider how you can borrow from the elements that make these distractions so distracting in the first place, and implement them into your project management and ongoing operational activities.

Want to learn more? There’s even an online Wharton course offered in Gamification. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself watching a progress bar move a little closer to completion after each assignment.