Gamification was one of the big buzzwords of 2013. In a Forbes survey of its Global 2,000 companies 70% said that they planned to integrate it into their business practices.
Essentially Gamification means adopting the principals of gaming into the practices used to encourage people to do things. This might include, for example, creating benign competition by way of points, achievement badges or a virtual currency which might be linked to rewards. Tasks can be made to feel more like games by adding meaningful choices, increasing challenge and adding narrative to activities. At a very basic level a leaderboard is a form of Gamification.
Examples of large applications include Microsoft, who created a game called Ribbon Hero to teach customers how to use their Office Productivity Suite effectively. One interesting application was Quest To Learn, which the New York City Department of Education created to increase engagement with school children. The project was funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This was successful and has also been rolled out in Chicago.
Advocates of Gamification say that it appeals to natural human instincts such as the need for competition and reward. It increases engagement and makes education and training something that people want to do, at any age.
Critics say that it is often not fun and creates an artificial sense of achievement. They also claim that it can create unintended behaviours. Ian Bogost, a well known game designer and critic, says that it is a fad and suggests that it should be renamed 'exploitionware'.
The problem is one which tends to accompany buzzwords and fads and that is poor implementation. Often products deigned to ride the wave of a fad are poorly implemented, either because they are brought out in a hurry so as not to miss the boat or designed without adequate understanding.
Essentially Gamification, when well applied, appeals to natural human instincts and it will make learning easier because it incentivised activities. Would you sooner learn by rote from a list or learn while playing a game? The issue is doing it well and doing it because it suits the learning opportunity, rather than because it's a bandwagon.