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Just to disclaim myself as a gray hair, I want a t-shirt that says (in VT-100 font) "USENET was my blog." The information age is good at historical amnesia, rebranding and reinvention. So I'm about to explain gamification to all of you from a boomer perspective.
Gamification is not new. Since the first sales guy got paid on commission, and the first toy got put in a Cracker Jacks box, gamification has been with us. Humans need dopamine -- that neurochemically transmitted psychological reward we get from achieving some goal.
For early humans, that may have been from filling a basket with berries so the family could have fruit for dinner, or taking down a large mammal, or finding a really nice sex partner. Humans like to create games for themselves; it's a collary to our ability to plan and set goals.
However, humans are pretty bad at setting goals for open-ended tasks. We are not good at building psychological frameworks for habits, or for activities that others want us to make as habits.
For example, a young child may not see any future facing goal to do math homework. The means of motivating her to do her math homework basically involve rewards and punishments. If you don't do you math homework, no dessert. Or, if you do your math homework, you get a gold star and bask in the warm approval of a good teacher. These methods of behavioral reinforcement are authentic and they work. This is not news, but in a basic way, it is gamification.
A kid might look at the cereal shelf and thinks, "This cereal had a cool toy last time we got cereal. I want to have more of those toys, and collect them." That kid is subject to gamification.
A salesperson looks at salesforce.com at the graphs of how his team is going this month, and thinks, "If I can pull out three more sales at the level of my average this month, I'll top out the ranks and get a bonus." That guy is subject to the gamification of his job.
A teenager who knows that if he pulls in a GPA greater than 3.0 that her grandfather will pay for spring break.
Puzzles on the side of the cereal box.
Sashes of badges in Girl or Boy Scouting
There is very little new in gamification, except the name. Marketers and managers have used reward structures for over a hundred years. It's the science of motivation. Motivational speakers teach you to set goals and reward structures for yourself. Time management strategies allow you to create rules for your own games.
When the telephone was invented, people bemoaned that a phone call was not "real" communication. We have had the same struggles over email, online chat, and virtual worlds. Today, no one would say that a person you know through business only as a voice on a phone is not a real business relationship. For email, most people would say the same. Soon it will be the same in virtual world acquaintances.
Today, many people in games and in marketing are saying that gamification is not authentic. I beleive that as it becomes less of a buzz word, both sides will come to understand that it's the same games humans have been playing since they embraced the concept of time and planning, and motivational tricks.