[Updated] “Gamification” is a term I first heard at a Microsoft internal conference a few years back when Jane McGonigal gave a talk on the topic.  I’ll admit I was a little sceptical to start with but the talk she gave was very similar to the TED talk she gave not long after.

What prompted this random musing, and the recollection of that talk, was that today was a tough day at work.  They happen from time to time, it’s work after all, but rather than sitting on the sofa and watching something random on TV when I got home, I fired up a game I’ve been meaning to try for a while and hit the road.  That game was Zombies, Run!  I chose a playlist and pressed start mission.  The story unfolded while I ran, intermixed with my favourite tracks and as I ran I collected items and received radio messages from a nearby camp.  I ended up running just under 2k, with a few walking breaks I’ll admit, but that is 2k more than I’d have run had I thought of this as simply running.

Now the interesting thing here is that I think of it as a game, because it is, but it has me running for the first time in a long time and the first time outside of the gym that wasn’t a race.  Had I only had music and no narrative I don’t doubt I wouldn’t have run as far or fast as I did, there were times when the “radio message” said I was being surrounded and I ran despite being tired and didn’t give up.  It’s spooky the effect the narrative had on my actions and the mental boost it provided to keep me going.  I’ve not finished the first mission, and already I can’t wait to go for another run to finish it off!

With the proliferation of technologies that enable such games to be developed it’s an interesting time to be alive and it’s early days yet.  AR (augmented reality) is still in its infancy and with developments in wearable technologies it’s only going to be easier to make these games more immersive and involving.  For example, imagine a device that could monitor your metabolism and the energy you consume and expel.  A health bar would be literal and if you over-eat you can see that in real-time.  It would be more Xbox Life than Xbox Live;


This concept and the advancement in technologies combine have potential to have a massive impact on the way we deal with problems as a society, imagine the difference that could be made to our towns and cities if urban planning games required you to actually plant a tree, pick up little or help someone in need.  I’m a sceptical optimist so the flip side of the amount of data about us that could be collected is an obvious concern but the potential remains nonetheless.

Now, excuse me while I go play LavaQuake which requires a clean home with my belongings secured away.  I wouldn’t want them to hit the lava when the quake hits after all.  Don’t be silly, it isn’t tidying, it’s just a game…


[UPDATE] Not long after posting this article, io9 have posted an interesting story regarding the use of games in medicine and as an assistive aid for people with long term medical needs; The Rise of “Cyber Therapy,” or How Games Became a Medical Treatment