A few weeks ago, this blog discussed how gamification might be used to support workers to sit less and move more. In this blog, Duncan Robertson reports on the second part of his literature review, which examined common features that worked and didn’t work for gamification, as well as some key considerations used to change behaviour using this approach.
- Social contact & social contracts: Referring back to the first of the three key psychological principals discussed in my previous blog, there are several social methods used in interventions that work well. For example, peer support between participants helps everyone reach their goal. Additionally, accountability between participants goes back to individuals being more motivated by loses than gains.
- Clearly defined goals: Interventions must provide participants with a purpose for participating. Clearly deciding on a reachable goal helps maintain motivation and engagement. An intervention that has been designed well can regularly adapt goals based on participant progress. For example, ensuring goal difficulty increases with participants progress in order to always provide a challenging activity.
- Friendly competition: Friendly competition between participants is encouraged. This can come in the form of leaderboards or a points system that everyone can see or is shown at regular intervals. This allows the workplace to be transformed into an environment with collaboration, creativity and learning.
- Feedback systems: A steady and accurate feedback system that guarantees participant goals can be reached is beneficial. Any method of feedback should be immersive and exciting and preferably instantaneous. Players want to see when they achieve one of their goals and what they will move onto next.
- Align with goals: Gamified systems in interventions should align with the organisations/firm’s already existing long-term goals. This helps participating employees build positive relationships within the workplace and overall can benefit the relationship between employee and employer.
- A handcrafted approach: There is no uniform approach to developing and successfully implementing a gamified intervention. A handcrafted program, specific to the needs and goals of each site of intervention is far more effective than a general program following a ‘one-size-fits-all’ program.
What does not work
- Extrinsic Motivation: Any interventions that place emphasis on gamified extrinsic motivators (badges, points, virtual currencies), without the inclusion of intrinsic motivators (sense of belonging, growth, curiosity, learning) leads to loss of interest and can be taken as a lack of consideration to participants motivations. Participants generally like fun motivators like role-playing, organizing, status and achievements, mastery of skills and learning
- Subjective monitoring: The usage of self-reporting in interventions can result in a loss of accuracy. Reporting the levels of physical activity and achievements are generally lost due to participants subjective over-reporting of their results rather than objective results. This is most common in younger participants (18-34), where older participants can provide a more objective measure.
- Participation: We must consider that not everyone in a workplace will willing be engaged in participation. If anyone is forced to participate, they are not really participating and will likely drop out at the first chance they see. This is an example of a poorly executed design and may annoy users, losing potency and effectiveness.
- Sustainability: There are questions of how sustainable interventions in the workplace can be. Often, we see a high level of participation at the beginning of an intervention. However, as time goes on, without the addition of new features to maintain continued interest, the level of participation will gradually drop. Referring to the key psychological principals again, long term behaviour changes are often better sustained by new variables than by constant reinforcement
What next for gamification?
The field of gamification and gamified interventions is still in its infancy, there is still so much more we can learn about what works well and doesn’t work well. Based on the nature of academia, by the time a publication in a journal is released, there may be some new and updated methods found more effective for a gamified intervention. From this, there are also limitations between theory and practice. Not everything will always go to plan, particularly when large numbers of people are involved in an intervention. There is always a change for new unexpected challenges or unforeseen consequences to emerge.
In addition, there is very limited research into gamification interventions in any demographics outside of adults and young adults. As they are the main point of interest in many studies there are gaps of information into how gender, age and cultural orientations play a role in variance of reception in gamified interventions. Furthermore, time limitations of interventions have not been fully investigated. As interest in participation decreases over time, without any updates to maintain attention an intervention may fail. As goal-setting theory suggests, specific time-bound goals tend to be more effective within gamification than there being ambiguity to when it ends.
What else has gamification been used for?
We’ve discussed gamification interventions that address physical activity, but what else can gamification be used for?
- Drinking: Gamification interventions were successfully used to address the unhealthy behaviour of over drinking alcohol. This was designed to help employees in the workplace that drank too much alcohol, potentially being demotivated in the workplace. The results and successes suggest gamified interventions can be used in a wide variety of situations where a change of unhealthy behaviour is wanted
- Tobacco use: Gamified interventions into smoking cessation have been found to be effective in changing unhealthy behaviours. Participants who feel a sense of purpose in quitting provided in a well-designed gamified intervention are much more likely to quit. Successful approaches could be used to address other unhealthy behaviours like sedentary behaviours.
- Depression: Depression is a growing problem in our society, particularly in youth and adolescence. A study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) used a gamification approach in the form of digital game intervention. It was specifically developed to treat clinical depression in adolescents. Its successful implementation represents a potential use of gamification to help those living with depression and could be used to treat other behaviours
- Diet : One intervention published in Nutrition and Health looked at fruit and vegetable intake and whether a gamified approach could increase intake. Findings showed that at least in the short term, the use of gamification encouraged the increase of intake of fruit and vegetables. In a key point to take note of, to keep participants involved in the long-term new features had to be added to renew interest.
- Drug usage: Conventional therapies struggle to work with drug users, with a high number of users relapsing. A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research suggested that 40%-50% of individuals relapsed in the first year and 70% relapsed within 3 years. Using gamification technologies for intervention may help extrinsic and intrinsic motivations to avoid further drug usage and prevent a relapse.
We can see all the benefits of gamification being used to deliver intervention. Certain systems of gamification are more effective than others at motivating participants. Goals set should be specific, attainable, realistic, measurable and have a clear time frame for completion/moving onto the next round. Any interventions made should be as flexible as possible or tailor-made to the specific workplaces/environments, following recommendations of structure and player types. Having a one size fits all approach will not work as all workplaces are different and have different player types and motivations. Friendly competition, leaderboards and team collaboration with rewards given periodically are great ways to build positive relationships between employees and employers. Using principles of psychology, we can understand that people are motivated by loss, point systems that deduct from team points rather than give can be effective motivators. Finally, new features must be added over time to ensure interest is maintained over the long term; else participants will grow bored with the intervention.