Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Gamification and motivation

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Gamification and motivation:
How can gamification be used to encourage healthy lifestyle choices?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins is a film in which children are encouraged to turn their chores into a game making the chores seem fun and the work much easier.

"In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun!" Mary Poppins introduced the idea that making a game of difficult tasks can motivate people to not only do these tasks but to have fun while doing them. By making chores into a game people can forget that they don't like the activity they are doing and enjoy the rewards they get from having fun. It is this concept that applies when looking at using gamification. Gamification involves using game like strategies as a means to encourage users to do something, to be engaged or to achieve some sort of goal (Gamification, 2015).

If a person and their colleague compete to see who can get the most steps on a pedometer in a week, one would expect to see an increased effort to walk between office buildings rather than drive a car. If a leader board is introduced at the gym for who has lost the most weight, people are likely to be working harder to get their name on the board. This is whats[grammar?] known as gamification. Using game strategies in the real world[grammar?].

Gamification can also be indirect. Some games encourage users to play for fun and entertainment but have indirect health benefits such as motivating users to get outdoors, to increase time spent on physical activity and to be connected to a community of users which can reduce isolation. These benefits can seem like hidden side effects as the user general doesn't intentionally play the game looking these benefits. Understanding the gamer's motivation to play these types of games can help in the design of games that are fun, meet the requirements of the user and also indirectly encourage users to make good choices and improve their health and well being.

There is an opportunity given peoples[grammar?] high screen time and low health to combine the two into using screens to encourage physical activity.  Our implicit, or unconscious motives can generally be understood to be seeking achievement, affiliation or power[factual?].  Games can often provide us with puzzles or activities that drive our need to feel challenged. By understanding the various implicit motives of your user base you can design a game that feeds these needs, resulting in repeat players and a motivated group.  

This chapter explore the positive aspects of gamification, how this concept can be used to encourage users to make better lifestyle choices and in turn achieve better health outcomes. In contrast it will also identify potential issues with relying on gamification to provide extrinsic rewards and the reluctance of people to continue behaviors when the game is finished.

Focus questions
  • what is gamification?
  • what motivates us to make good lifestyle choices?
  • what is it about gamification that motivates us?
  • what are some examples of games that encourage good lifestyle choices?

 What is gamification?[edit | edit source]

When people think about gamification they often think back to the video games played on a computer or console before smart phones and tablets were commonplace. Games were generally played for entertainment purposes and were set in a fantasy world. Parents of the 1980s often thought of video games as detrimental to well-being and would prefer their children went outside to play.  Gamification today is about more than just video games or technology. It is exploring a user base, understanding what motivates them and making this into a fun exercise. Marketers have been using gamification concepts for years.  Loyalty rewards programs are a good example of this.

Figure 2. Computer games are a good way to encourage students to learn[factual?].

A study undertaken by Thomas Malone in 1980 looked at how we can use computer games for instructional learning. To do this he questioned the very foundations of gaming, "what makes computer games captivating" (Malone, 1980). He also asked how these concepts can be applied in the development of learning materials to make education fun and to increase the level of intrinsic motivation that occurs.  Malone (1980) found that the presence of a goal was consistent[grammar?] the most important feature of a game within the 65 elementary school students in the study. Other important features were curiosity, fantasy and challenge. This study can be seen as one of the building blocks into the games we enjoy today that have gamification elements.

Gaming has come a long way since the 1980s. Today, gamification is known as the use of gaming strategies in non-game contexts (Deterding, Sicart, Nacke, O'Hara & Dixon 2011) . By enhancing a users experience and engagement with an activity, based on research on the user base itself, the idea is that the introduction of a game can ensure the person enjoys the activity more and is more engaged. Gamification can be used in business, education, health, anywhere that the motivation required to undertake an activity or program needs to be improved. Gamification is becoming so popular that it is fast becoming a service offering of many application development vendors. The growth of the gaming industry has encouraged a wave of games with purpose. Gamification strategies can be used to increase motivation in users to complete any task and in recent times has been used to encourage users to be healthy, fit, recycle bottles and wash their hands, among a range of other things. Social media growth is also driving the gamification market (PUNE 2016). Social networks are increasingly becoming an integral part of business and social life. By involving the social aspect into games and conducting in depth user research and user experience into design, the uptake of gaming has been very successful[factual?]

What motivates good lifestyle choices?[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

The rise of positive psychology[edit | edit source]

Positive psychology is becoming an increasingly popular focus. Positive psychology involves the focus on traits such as hope, courage, creativity and future mindedness with a view to enabling happiness (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). In the earlier days of psychology research was focused on trying to cure brain and mental abnormalities, dealing with abuse and trying to understand problems[factual?]. The past focus on negative psychological functions can be understood as this can often be seen as a more immediate need. It is thought that the rise of positive psychology will continue throughout the twenty first century with a focus on encouraging individuals, families and communities to be their best selves[factual?]. Current research [factual?] however shows that to prolong positive psychological functioning some time and care needs to be given to fostering this as a means to negating the onset of more negative psychological functions such as depression. With an abundance of information available to people on health as well as the number of products that are easily accessible to make people look and feel great it seems obvious that a focus on improved health is popular and in high demand.

What is it about gamification that motivates us?[edit | edit source]

Games are often associated with children. When games are developed for adults they must take into consideration the complexities of motivation and behavior along with other factors such as lack of available time, high stress levels reluctance to change ingrained behaviors[factual?]. There are a number of theories that look at how motivation works. Below are two examples that are relevant to gamification. 

Self determination theory[edit | edit source]

Self Determination Theory (SDT) enables the identification and understanding of the conditions in which a persons psychological well being will flourish. At a high level, when a person feels relatively competent, that they have autonomy and relatedness (Ryan & Deci, 2000) they feel more motivated and get more joy from doing tasks.  It makes sense then that people will make good lifestyle choices if they feel like they have the freedom to make these choices and that they enjoy the actions that come along with this.  When high competence, full autonomy and relatedness are provided in a game a person can thrive and succeed. An example of this can be found when discussing the commencement of a new exercise regime.

Case Study

Rosy and her friends want to get in shape. They decide to download a mobile application to track their running and also interact and keep track of each other's achievements. The first week is tough, however knowing her friends are relying on her to keep them motivated Rosy powers through. At the end of the week the application congratulates Rosy and her friends for meeting their goal. They made it!  Rosy feels a sense of renewed energy inside of her, she feels competent.  After a few more weeks of meeting goals Rosy feels fantastic.  She has started to set her own targets aside from her friends. She researches new running tracks and other exercise programs and tracks this through the application. She feels a sense of autonomy in her new-found passion.  Before she realises it, she is running for her own benefit.  Rosy shares this new found passion with her friends and they continue to work together and support one another to achieve their healthy lifestyle goals.

This is an example of turning extrinsic motivation into intrinsic motivation and embedding a positive lifestyle change into everyday habit under the components of SDT. Lisa started out very unmotivated, with the help of the mobile application she was able to track progress, feel achievement, exercise autonomously and share this in a community of like-minded people which encourages relatedness

Fogg's Behavioral Model[edit | edit source]

According to Fogg's Behavioral Model (Fogg, 2009), to ensure success in the design of persuasive technologies a strategy should include the three essential components of motivation, ability and triggers. In this situation we discuss gaming as the persuasive technology in that we are trying to persuade a person to make better health choices through gamification. The game must capture at once the motivation of the player to complete an activity, at the same time ensuring they have the ability to do this and that they are sufficiently triggered. The model essentially states that the higher a persons motivation is to achieve a goal, and the better chance the person has at achieving the goal, the better they are triggered and therefore more likely to undertake the activity.

Fogg (2009) identifies three core motivator groups that drive people. They are pleasure or pain, hope or fear anf[spelling?] social acceptance or rejection. Fogg (2009) also identifies the elements that can contribute to the ability of the person to complete (or not complete) a task. They are time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social deviance, [grammar?]non-routine. During the design of a game, if the designer can understand a persons[grammar?] core motivations for behavior change and the ability for a person to complete the task they can improve the likelihood that a person will not only play the game initially, but will continue to play the game.

The model uses persuasive technologies to change behaviors. In a subtle manner through technology the model looks to change behaviors with the expectation that this change will become ingrained in a person, even when the game is over.

Examples of games that encourage good lifestyle choices[edit | edit source]

There are many games that can encourage different behaviors in people. Games can be educational, can encourage fitness, can teach skills and be entertaining. Games can provide different things to different people. This chapter is concerned with games that encourage good lifestyle choices. There are many of these however this section will describe a popular three including Pokemon Go, Nintendo Wii and MyFitnessPal.

Pokemon Go[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Pokemon Go is a very popular augmented reality video game with unexpected health benefits.

Pokemon Go is an augmented reality smartphone application. Pokemon Go, based on the popular TV Show and Card Game requires users to catch Pokemon that appear to be wandering around outside through the augmented reality feature on a smartphone. The popularity of this game took the world by storm.  Perhaps unexpectedly the game rose to a huge popularity to the point that psychologists started to analyse the positive effects this game was having on peoples[grammar?] mental health.

In a study undertaken by Kaczmarek, Misiak, Behnke, Dzieka & Guzik (2017) around 400 volunteers participated in a study to determine whether the rise of the Pokemon Go game actually was improving peoples[grammar?] potential health outcomes in terms of users undertaking more outdoor activity. The assumption being that more time spent outdoors exercising provides can provide better health outcomes. In addition to this they found that those who already had a motivation for better health outcomes would be more likely to uptake the Pokemon Go game. This is significant. If people who want to make better lifestyle choices are interested in games that encourage outdoor activity it seems a simple solution to combine these motivators and encourage this type of gaming in a fitness context.

Case Study

Rosy and her daughter Lisa are busy, they don’t have a lot of time to catch up with each other or to get outdoors and exercise.  Rosy is a single mother, working full time and studying. Lisa is a high school student who is working part time and playing a number of sports outside of school. Lisa tells her mum about a new game she has found called Pokemon Go.  The game is played using augmented reality and requires users to walk around outside and catch Pokemon.  Its popularity is growing every day and Rosy even notices people around the office talking about this game.  Rosy and Lisa each download the mobile application and start to play.  It quickly becomes a nightly activity that they undertake each night after dinner.  Soon enough the game loses its fun however Rosy and Lisa have gotten into a routine of going for their nightly walks and so they continue this activity.

This is an example of how intrinsic motivation can be developed from extrinsic motivation.  They begin the activity for social status, they start to reap other benefits from this and then stop relying on the game to motivate them, they are motivated intrinsically.

Nintendo Wii[edit | edit source]

Nintendo Wii games allow you to record your weight and fitness levels when you commence a program and set targets for where you would like to be in the future[factual?].  By doing this players can understand where they are in relation to their goals, what they need to do to achieve their goals and can receive feedback to ensure they remain on track. When the feedback is provided in the game players can feel a sense of achievement. Unlike Pokemon Go players are asked to articulate their goals, their present state and can identify ways to move from their present state to their goal state. Goal setting is an important part of keeping motivated and is a core function of the Nintendo Wii. According to Nitz, Kuys, Isles & Fu (2010) adults should aim for around 30 minutes of activity at least five times per week to reduce the risk of morbidity. This can often be difficult to achieve particularly for women. In their study they found that using the Nintendo Wii does improve fitness, among other things and can therefore be a good healthy lifestyle choice.

Case Study

Lisa, a high school student, encourages her mum Rosie to buy her a Nintendo Wii. Rosie buys it for Lisa for Christmas and on Christmas morning they set it up and start playing. Rosie is impressed, she is able to enter her weight, test her balance and fitness levels and finds out she is a little overweight. While Rosie had thought this might be the case she now has an idea of how much she is overweight. This inspires Rosie to continue her weight loss journey and to track her progress through the Nintendo Wii. She works our regularly with her daughter in games on the Nintendo Wii.

Its not all about video games[edit | edit source]

Figure 4. A piano staircase installed in Mexico City encouraged people to use the stairs rather than the escalator in a busy subway.

In Stockholm a group of people created piano stairs to test if people could be encouraged to use the stairs instead of the escalator.  This video shows the outcome of the experiment and how such a simple idea can really change people’s choices. 

View the video here:

The presence of piano stairs at this location is not likely to encourage people to take the stairs at another location should the piano not be present. It does however illustrate the concept that people can be motivated to make a change if the alternate way is appealing and does not cost the person more than they are willing to part with (in terms of money, time, effort or social acceptance).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Gamification involves using gaming strategies in non=game contexts to encourage motivation. Gamification, combined with motivation theory allows designers to design games that can satisfy a users[grammar?] need for competence, autonomy and relatedness mixed with feelings of achievement to encourage a user to seek out and purse[spelling?] healthy lifestyle choices such as exercising, eating well and drinking water. There are a variety of examples of games that do this for users and with the rise of positive psychology in the twenty first century it can be expected that these concepts will continue to be explored. Games can use technology however this is not a prerequisite.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Bénabou, R., & Tirole, J. (2003). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. The Review of Economic Studies, 70(3), 489-520. Retrieved from:

Conway, S. (2014). Zombification?: Gamification, motivation, and the user. Journal Of Gaming & Virtual Worlds6(2), 129-141. Retrieved from:

Deterding, S., Sicart, Mi., Nacke, L., O'Hara, K., & Dixon, D. (2011) Gamification. using game-design elements in non-gaming contexts. Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, (pp. 2425-2428. New York, United Stated America: ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. doi:10.1145/1979742.1979575

Fogg, B. 2009. A behavior model for persuasive design. In Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Persuasive Technology (Persuasive '09), p. 40

Gamification. (2015). Library Technology Reports51(2), 10-16. Retreived from:

Kaczmarek, LD., Misiak, M., Behnke, M., Dzieka, M., Guzik, P. (2017). The Pikachu effect: Social and health gaming motivations lead to greater benefits of Pokemon GO use. Computers in Human Behavior, 75, 356-363. Retrieved from:

Nitz, J. C., Kuys, S., Isles, R., & Fu, S. (2010). Is the Wii Fit™ a new-generation tool for improving balance, health and well-being? A pilot study. Climacteric, 13(5), 487-491. doi:10.3109/13697130903395193

PUNE. (2016, February 16). Gamification Market Growing at 46.3% CAGR to 2020 led by social media. CISION. Retreived from

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist55(1), 68-78. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68

Sailer, M., Hense, J., NMandl[spelling?], H., & Klever, M. (2013). Psychological Perspectives on Motivation through Gamification. Interaction Design and Architecture(s) Journal, 2014(19), 28-37. Retrieved from:

Seligman, M. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5

External links[edit | edit source]