On its surface, gamification looks like a non-word. Many word processors don’t accept it, and even entering it into WordPress’s text editor generates the dreaded red squiggly line – the computer’s way of saying “Oops.” But gamification is an interesting concept that basically applies the theory of game development to everyday life, or the completion of some task. This can be as simple as using tape to make a square on the ground to teach a child how to sweep with a broom, or as complicated as multimillion-dollar simulation tools used in military training. But it’s the game concept – the use of goals, rewards, structure, intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors – that makes gamification what it is.
How is gamification used? The uses range from the offbeat to the serious, from humorous “JUMP!” messages to earnest messages urging consumers to buy insurance (as reported by Ian Bowen in Britain’s Post Online). Although the social network Foursquare applies some gamification conventions, the concept is used in varying degrees by other forms of social media as well. At one level, the motivation can come from other sources (often other users) rather than by the entity in charge of the gamification itself. From this perspective, we can look at Twitter. By posting microblog messages (Tweets), people typically gain followers (which could be viewed by some as a mark of popularity). Since people naturally desire acceptance, this is a powerful motivator for many. As they Tweet, however, they draw others into the conversation and drive further traffic on the network – which attracts advertisers to Twitter and ultimately boosts Twitter’s revenues. So even though Twitter does not employ full-blown gamification, its connection with some of the core ideas – using external motivations (follower counts) to encourage people to join the conversation – has the secondary effect of spurring people to act using the motivation of social interaction (connecting with friends), exploration (finding new people on the service), and competition (the desire to gain more followers and “outrank” others).