The Science of Gamification

Gamification, game mechanics added upon behavioral mechanics, game design, however you want to talk about the “g” word, one thing is clear—we are entering a new era of gaming. Players are shifting away from zero-sum games, opting for more social gaming counterparts that include elements of collaboration, altruism, and meaning beyond the big “W” or just as big “L”. To study the behavior of gamers, we need more than just subjective accounts as to why the world is seeing a change in gamer demographics. By understanding the ebb and flow of gamer demographics, designers will be able to design better-engaging gamified apps for the digital native world.

Flipping the point of focus, designers need to know more than just the psyche of gamers to be able to build successful gamified solutions. Basing implementation off of science and iterative design, designers constantly refer back to academic textbooks and research publications to find new, cutting edge ideas that potentially could hook the entire world on games. The following is an example of what a designers’ cookbook of scientific ingredients used in gamification looks like today. These sciences range in focus on the end user to the designer, including topics such as anthropology to computer science.

Gamification Cookbook

1. Anthropology

Anthropology is the study of humanity and its interaction under many different social contexts. It is important to remember that play is a natural state of learning. From play, games are created from rule-based logic. Sports are a great example of great games that have stood the test of time because they incorporate both play and game elements. Studying humanity as a whole gives us insight as to how we globally like to play and game.

2. Sociology

Sociology is the study of a society. Similar to the study of humanity except this looks at a smaller subset of people, typically specific cultures, cities, etc. Great design principles come from understanding cultural gamification. Each culture views games differently in relation to their use, so it would be important to understand a culture before designing for its members. The cultural dimensions provide a great place to start.

3. Psychology

Gamification is already a huge proponent of psychology. Psychology, the study of behavior, has made great strides to be able to explain human behavior and cognition. To be more specific, positive psychology has proven to be a great academic resource for being able to find ways to bring bliss to people’s lives.

4. Mathematics

Mathematics has no general accepted definition. For practical reasons, math is the study of numbers and functions. All of science is fueled by math in some way, shape, or form, thus it also fuels gamification.

5. Computer Science

Computer Science is the study of more scientific approaches to computation. Similar to math, computer science theory provides strong frameworks upon which user-interfaces and algorithms provide the best gamified solutions when working together.

6. Human Computer Interaction

Human Computer Interaction (HCI) is the study, planning, and design of the interaction between humans and technology. This field is heavily rooted in interdisciplinary connections between theoretical and behavioral sciences. A great technique learned from HCI is interviewing. Interviewing is the process of learning more about a potential end-user by asking non-binary questions that require thoughtful and personable responses. This helps identify wants from needs. Another great use of HCI is human computation—the ability to solve tough problems with the use of human and computer intellects.

7. Biology

Biology is the natural science of life. The greatest combination of gamification and biology is biofeedback—technological sensors that provide feedback on the status of bodily functions. The rise in biotechnology is allowing gamification to create successful services such as Re-Mission—the popular game that has shown to fight cancer effectively.

8. Education

Gamification and Education is a no-brainer. Games stem from play, and both elements are crucial to learning—education’s primary goal. Educational pedagogies should look to use gamification as a way to promote additive learning and collaboration of knowledge creation/management.  As further proof, Prof. Kevin Werbach has successfully taught a gamification course at UPenn which in the class itself is gamified. Accounts from students at UPenn claim that the class is AWESOME!

9. Economics

Economics is the study of the scarcity and allocation of resources. Economic theory coupled with the above-mentioned sciences can help create virtual currencies that could potentially solve many real world economical problems. Gamification would bring forth great interaction principles to make a virtual currency enticing enough to use as a secondary currency that could be used for digital property creation and distribution.

Please comment on the usefulness of the cookbook and if you have a cookbook of your own to share, please do!


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