When it comes to disruption, gamification is making significant inroads into how designers build systems and how we interact with applications both recreationally and at work. Gabe Zichermann, the founder of Gamification Co, says that we are at a very important and interesting point in time. He says that we are very close to conquering boredom. However, he told the audience, often in very colourful terms, that it's habituation that is more difficult to conquer.
No matter how much we like something; it will become ho-hum over time.
At this year’s YITCON 14 − the Youth Festival of ICT, Gabe pointed out research that concluded that even when we are in the best possible romantic and intimate relationship, we move from the phase of excitement into a steady, companionship mode after less than two years.That poses great challenges for those developing new systems as what once worked brilliantly falls into disuse in a fairly short time. However, Gabe pointed out that our old perception that boredom preceded a "shutdown" of brain activity was false.
"Now we understand that this is not true at all. Your brain, in a state of boredom, is acting at 90 per cent of the same amount of energy as it does when you're awake and, in theory, doing something of importance".
Conquering boredom, according to Gabe, is big business. It's not just entertainment he argued. Relieving boredom or habituation is a huge part of the economy that extends into workplaces in ways that were unimagined just a few years ago. And it's in these areas that Gabe encouraged the audience to pursue careers.
Not just a game
Gamification is the application of game-playing theory in non-gaming applications. One example, amongst many that Gabe discussed, was Delta Airlines' Ready Set Jet application, a gamified training application that all Delta staff are required to complete.
What makes the success of this application incredible is that staff not only needed to complete the game, but they weren't allowed to do it during work hours − it had to be completed in the employees' own time.
Despite that, it was extensively used − four years’ worth of training was completed in the program's first year − and has resulted in higher levels of professional competency in Delta's staff.
Part of the promise of gamification is that it flies in the face of what other industries do to keep us from getting bored. For example, Gabe said that all reality TV shows are effectively the same show with a different setting.
And loyalty programs rarely change other than to reduce the benefits to members over time. Games use habituation to their advantage.
By maintaining a tension between the game's difficulty and the skill of the player, the game designer keeps the player engaged, by keeping them in a constant state between anxiety and boredom, even though they are repeating similar actions. And it's artificial intelligence that maintains this state, called flow.
Another element of gamification that helps people learn and improve is that they can fail safely within the game. From a training and education point of view this has significant implications for workplace safety programs.
The applications of gamification are vast. Gabe told the audience of Foldit. This is a science game that helps scientists solve problems around understanding how complex proteins are constructed. The highest-scoring solutions found by game players are then sent to researchers for further investigation.