Gaming the system

Posted on July 26, 2011 at 8:30 am

Gamification may be all the rage, but the philosophy behind it isn’t new. In fact, Plato is believed to have said back in Ancient Greece that “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

And it’s true – even if you’re not the type of person who spends a lot of time on things like Farmville, maybe you love a good game of contract bridge. Or a few innings of wiffle ball. Or perhaps you kick butt at trivia night. These are activities that bring out peoples’ true colors when it comes to competition, cooperation, and reward – whether those rewards are intrinsic or extrinsic.

There are a bunch of smart folks thinking about this – the Games for Health conference remains an excellent showcase for a wide range of approaches. Big healthcare organizations like Humana have jumped into the video game fray, among others. And employees all over the country are engaging in some friendly competition thanks to companies like RedBrick and Shape Up, whether it’s to lose weight or eat healthier or encourage their friends and family to get a flu shot.

And of course it doesn’t have to be high-tech solution. Kids quizzing their parents on the minutia of their lives ends up bringing them closer together… with the potential for a lot of good natured ragging along the way (hint: the Jonas Brothers are soooo 2007). Then there’s the guy who uses his old Dungeons and Dragons 20-sided die to determine the day’s workout. It’s all about finding something that makes you always look forward to the next round. To engage over the long term.

Meanwhile, gamification gives those of us in the business of improving health a chance to learn what motivates different types of people, and what they love to do when they have nothing they ‘need’ to do.

So the next time you need to encourage behavior change in your favorite population, maybe start the conversation with a quiz. Or create a challenge that sets the bar higher for health-related accomplishments – and rewards them for checking back often or for getting their friends and family on board. Give them ways to monitor (and brag about) their progress. And once in a while, add a surprise bonus to the mix.

See what happens – and what you can learn – when you engage in a playful way.

Because if we really want to push their buttons on behavior change, it may help to figure out which buttons they like to push.

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