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by guest author Maria Martin-Villalobos

Gamification is currently a trendy buzzword. It has been touted as the “next great thing”, a tool that will help businesses gain a competitive advantage in years ahead. However, it is reasonable to believe that the potential of gamification extends beyond mere economic gain. Specifically, gamification could be a good way to encourage people into engaging in more “positive” behaviors, such as recycling, active exercise or proper hand-washing.
In order to investigate the possibilities of this, and within the framework of my master thesis, I conducted an exploratory study that investigated cases in which gamification was “added” or used in a system with the aim to make people behave in a certain way.
In broad terms, the objective of the research was threefold:

1) to locate video examples of cases in which gamification was employed as the way to change specific behaviors into “better” ones.
2) to identify and analyze the characteristics of these projects.
3) based on these characteristics, to outline an initial taxonomy and suggest recommendations for “best practices” when designing and implementing future gamification programs.
Multiple findings were obtained from the research, however only a few of them will be detailed here.

Origin

Figure 1: Countries of origin.

Figure 1: Countries of origin.

One of the first things that stood out was the broad range existing in terms of where the gamification projects took place. The cases identified come from 20 different countries: 26 cases from Europe, 24 from America, 9 from Asia, 1 from Africa and 1 from Australia. It is encouraging to see that the practice of gamification is not limited to a certain socio-economic or cultural setting, but rather a tool that can, and is in fact employed, in very different settings.

Taxonomy

The focus of using gamification with “social transformation” aims is relatively new, so there is limited readily-available information regarding what has been done. However, knowing what has been done in the past, and what has been “successful”, is a most important first step in order to understand a field of action. Therefore, one of the aims of this research was to outline a rough taxonomy that encompassed these matters.
After documenting the features of the various projects, the taxonomy was built from a mixture of qualitative and quantitative observation of the cases: both what characteristics they had in common in terms of aims and goals; and in terms of use of visual feedback, rewards, etc.
The taxonomy took the various meta-categories of behavior (presented further ahead) as a point of departure. Given that the ultimate goal of the gamification projects was to establish or encourage a particular behavior/action, using the elicited behaviors as the starting point for this taxonomy seems like an appropriate classification choice.

Figure 2: Categories of behaviors identified.

Figure 2: Categories of behaviors identified.

In total, 24 behaviors “to be encouraged” were identified across the sample. These were grouped into 5 post-hoc categories based on the larger issue they belonged to:

  • waste management,
  • cleanliness,
  • mobility in the city,
  • exercise and others.

Waste management includes littering, the lack of recycling of various materials, and owners not picking up after their dog. Cleanliness consists of no hand or feet cleaning, failure to clean an exercise machine after use, lack of general cleanliness, and public urination. Mobility in the city refers to jaywalking, not stopping at a zebra crossing, not using a pedestrian bridge, and speeding while driving. The Exercise category is comprised of a failure to use the stairs and a general lack of exercise. Finally, Other encompasses a wide range of behaviors: ignoring a donation booth, not returning a shopping cart to its place nor rearranging chairs after their use, not using a building’s revolving door, not holding doors open for others, and xenophobia.

1. Waste management

image2[For an example of the type of projects grouped here see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iP2wTzIktX8]
This was the largest of all groups, with 26 cases identified in it. The group deals with actions that are considered unimportant, almost trivial because of the amount of times they have been performed. For instance, people often do not think about throwing away garbage, they just do it (or not). So the strategy the creators employ here is to create something new and unexpected. The projects aim to make “more fun” the way in which people traditionally experience their encounters with these every day, trivial objects such as trash bins.
This strategy is underscored by the choice to adapt existing systems rather than create new ones: because people have a set of pre-conceived notions and experiences regarding how an encounter with these objects is going to take place, any digression from this is more likely to come as a surprise. In most of the projects, the interactive element derives from the use of motion detectors that trigger some form of audio feedback. Through this feedback something “extra” is given to the person without incurring in what could be costly extrinsic rewards. At the same time, by making it so that opting-out is less likely, people are not faced with the decision of whether or not to participate, the gamified aspect is simply revealed to them in that moment.

2. Cleanliness

[For an example see: http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/crowd-control/episodes/dirty-deeds/]
In general terms, the projects in this group target behaviors that people already know they should be doing (as the benefits are well-known), but that for reasons such as laziness or lack of attention, they do not. Through gamification, the objective is to capture the attention of a person so that this particular behavior or action is more difficult to miss, both to the person and to others around.image3
Amongst the projects in this group the focus appears to be in tailoring “individual” experiences. This does not mean that the gamification initiatives are created specifically for one person, but rather that they attempt to guide the actions of people one by one, instead of those of larger groups. Through gamification, the goal is to capture the attention of the individual, and make it so that a particular behavior or action is difficult to miss. This desire to guide a person is underscored by the increased use of instructions. At the same time, the use of mechanical sensors serves as another guiding mechanism: because these sensors only produce an audio feedback when deliberately activated by a person, the results of an individual’s actions are much easier to perceive.
Remarkably, while on altering individual actions is the aim, the social context around said actions is not left aside. Indeed, these projects value the aspects of recruiting others, triggering curiosity, and forming crowds of spectators more than any of the others. This seems to reflect a desire to use the person as a “role model” through which the behavior is positioned as something socially-desirable, a social norm of sorts.

3. Mobility in the city

image4[For an example see:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SB_0vRnkeOk]
The projects in this group resemble those in the previous one in that they also attempt to make it easier for people to carry out actions or behaviors whose benefits they are aware of, but that they sometimes forget; or even to prevent behaviors that are detrimental for people’s safety.
These projects though, aim to capture the attention of passers-by and “divert attention”: the actions or behaviors that people do not necessarily enjoy doing, are encouraged by offering something extra in the course of the interaction. The fact that all the projects implied creating new systems rather than adapting existing ones, reflects a desire to produce an encounter that is unexpected for users, and thus even more “distracting”.
Unlike what occurred in the previous group, the focus here is not on particular individual deeds, but on affecting the way groups of people act. The fact that these projects seldom offer instructions could be considered as an attempt to avoid creating a barrier between the moment people are presented with the gamified system and the “start” of the interaction. The same could be said about the non-use of leaderboards or touch screens: because the gamification aims to affect more than one person at a time, control over it cannot be limited to a single person. As was the case in the previous group, the desire seems to be to establish a “social consensus” regarding specific behaviors.

4. Exercise

[For an example see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojo9M1cPSPI]
The gamification projects corresponding to this group could be considered as the most direct and forthright of all: participants have a very specific goal set for them, to be completed or achieved in the moment. Thanks to the reduced feedback loops with which they operate, users can perceive in almost immediate manner the consequences to their actions, and then choose whether or not to participate.image5
In a way, the objective of these projects is to get people to be “in the moment”: there are no points to be collected, no leaderboards in place. At the same time, by articulating specific goals that need to be completed, there seems to be an interest for the gamified interaction to not be continued or prolonged for an extended period of time. This group commonly employs rewards, which have been proven to be effective when deployed for punctual tasks.

Benefits

The research showed that the gamification projects analysed allowed for feelings of autonomy and relatedness (as defined by Cognitive Evaluation Theory (Deci & Ryan, 2004, 2008; Ryan & Deci, 2000)) to appear in participants. At the same time, it created spaces in which social connectivity and interaction between strangers was possible. These two elements have been linked to facilitate intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2004; Frederick-Recascino, 2004; Rimon, 2014).
image6Intrinsic motivation has in turn been positively associated to improvements in performances (Hamari & Koivisto, 2015), and to pave the way to create feelings of satisfaction and enjoyment in the people participating, which eventually leads to a desire to keep partaking in the activity.
Because of all the previous, gamification could be said to make people taking part in the activity more involved and engaged with the task they are presented. This, in turn, is translated into a higher likeliness of repeating the behavior or action presented.

Recommendations

Stemming from the research there are 4 main elements to keep in mind going forward:
image7A fundamental recommendation that emerges is the necessity to make it fun for a person to participate, to create playful encounters. This should ideally occur by both giving people something unexpected in the course of the interaction, as well as allowing them to participate in new, unforeseen manners. It is fundamental however, that throughout this experience users are able to retain a feeling of control, a sense of autonomy.
At the same time, fostering feelings of relatedness is paramount. The projects detailed here aim to position certain behaviors and attitudes as social norms, by virtue of positive peer pressure. In order to do this, it is necessary that the physical spaces where the gamification takes place allow for social exchange and interaction at various levels: not just between friends or acquaintances, but also between a person or group, and passers-by and strangers. Social connectivity and social validation of the behaviors presented is vital.
Finally, across all the different types of behaviors, the same kind of incentives, feedbacks or characteristics will not lead to the same results in terms of intrinsic motivation. The type of investments a person is prepared to do are dependent on the type of behavior that is being encouraged. Designers must consider this when deciding the features of a project.

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Daniel Schultheiss

Daniel Schultheiss

Sein Dissertationsvorhaben ab dem Jahr 2007 hielt Daniel Schultheiß nach dem Studium länger als erwartet am Ehrenberg. Auch nach dem Abschluss dieses Projekts zum Thema digitale Spiele im Jahr
2010 betrachtet der technisch orientierte und methodisch fokussierte Kommunikationswissenschaftler den Ehrenberg als seine Forschungsheimat.
Daniel Schultheiss