Gamification Pervades Our Daily Lives

By Anthony Zolezzi, Greenopolis

Ever have one of those dreams where you’re back in school and suddenly realize that you haven’t been doing your homework and are totally unprepared for a big exam that’s about to take place? Well, I experienced that same sort of sinking feeling at 3 a.m. the other morning – only I wasn’t asleep.  In fact, I was wide awake and on my way to New York to speak at the Gamification Summit, when it suddenly hit me that I have been so distracted with other matters of late, I really didn’t have any idea what I was going to say (other than describing our current efforts to “gamify” the Greenopolis site).

Since the only way I could prepare for this particular test (or perhaps this “Big Game” would be a more apt description) was to think fast, I started mentally casting about for some metaphor that might apply to today’s gaming technology. And then it hit me that the analogies I was trying to come up with were all around me – that, in fact, we are all constantly engaged in playing in one game or another.

Take the stock market, which has become a key indicator of our economic health. The day before, it was up 68 points and back over 11,000, so on this particular morning, I was a bit “ahead of the game.” Since I’ve got a lot at stake in this particular game, including all my retirement security, it’s fluctuations, like weather patterns, tend to affect my mood and behavior, and sometimes when it is really low I start buying – which is a lot like the way game mechanics work.

Then, while awaiting the opening bell, I turned on the news and all of the networks from Fox to MSNBC were talking about the “Tea Party debate” on CNN of the previous evening. According to an analysis offered by The Wall Street Journal, “Perry, the latecomer who shot to the top of national polls when he announced his candidacy just last month, moderated his tone on Social Security and in another case conceded an error. But he didn’t fundamentally retreat from his views, setting up a fierce battle for the nomination against  President Obama next year.” All of metaphors “shot to the top,” “fierce battle” reminded me of … Angry Birds.

And then lets not forget the actual games that have become such an intrinsic part of our national and international cultures – in this case, the double header on Monday Night Football, with USA Today noting how “New England scored more than 30 points for the ninth straight game – the second longest streak in NFL history (behind St Louis in 1999-2000). There was also some astonishing football with Wes Welker’s 99-yard TD reception. Tom Brady threw for 517 yards (the fifth highest single game total ever). But, not quite as ruthlessly efficient as ever: Brady threw his first regular season interception in 358 pass attempts.”

Upon arriving in the Big Apple, I headed to the gym, and started to wonder whether there are game mechanics at work there as well.  Am I being rewarded with an enhanced feeling of well-being?  Is there an incentive challenge and feedback loop involved?  Absolutely.  Do I look at how much other people are lifting and aspire to get my muscles to look as developed as theirs?  If you were to ask me, I would probably tell you no — but as I reflect on the total gym experience, I start to recognize the various aspects of game mechanics at work.  including the reward — looking and feeling good.

Now that I think about it, the gamification ethic seems to have been around forever, in one form or another and in all aspects of our existence. In fact, I would go so far as to say that human beings are “hard-wired’ for gaming. So why are the millenials and everyone suddenly making such a big deal about it to the point where we even have a “Gamification Summit?” I think it’s because the “games people pay now” have entered a kind of fourth dimension – one that exists on our phones, our iPads, our laptops, and has made it possible for us to compete with each other on a remote basis anywhere, any time. It’s the fact that such a broad spectrum of games have suddenly been put at our fingertips, no matter where we might be, in a manner never seen before.

Let’s face it: in terms of competitiveness, challenge, risk and reward, life has always been a game. What’s different now is that cyber-games are fast coming to dominate our new digital existence, largely replacing more traditional forms of recreation and occupying the space in our lives once reserved for things like reading and reflection. It’s a phenomenon that may already be beyond our ability to control – but one that offers us another opportunity to educate and enlighten, rather than to merely entertain, such as we are now doing at Greenopolis by using games to promote awareness of the importance of recycling.

To be sure, all this flying around to conferences can be a test of one’s endurance – but looking at my life and world as one big game is kind of fun. And, upon reflection, turning good causes into fun and games may be the best way we can get people involved in them.

[Image Credit: jardenberg, Flickr]


Anthony was the Co-Founder of Code Blue Recycling, which was acquired by Waste Management and the predecessor to the Greenopolis recycling system. Today Anthony serves as the Creative Director of Greenopolis. “There can only be one change to any problem – change in attitude and consciousness.”

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