Would you like to play a game?

Apparently, that computer in “War Games” was on to something. People do like to play games, even adults. Okay, especially adults. Not only are games a huge business, generating more revenue than the movie industry itself, but gamification has made its way into everything from eBay to elearning.

People who want to sell us things have become adept at making us feel like we’re playing a game when what we’re really doing is spending money. For example, every time I leave the checkout counter of my grocery store, the clerk reminds me of how many “points” I’ve earned from my shopping, points that can be used to “earn” discounts when I buy gas. Sure enough, when I buy gas I look for participating gas stations. I even try to time my purchase to maximize my discount, which gets me even more emotionally involved in the game. And when I fill my tank for $.50 less per gallon, or $.80, or whatever it is, I feel like I’ve won something.

How about scratching that silvery stuff off a ticket to see what’s underneath so we can find out what we’ve won, whether it’s from a box of cereal or an in-store promotion or a lottery ticket? It’s just another way to get us to buy more. And don’t get me started on eBay. Inducing buyers to “compete” against other buyers, in a rules-oriented, game-like setting, all to jack up the price, that’s sheer genius, at least if you own stock in eBay.

Even sales promotions tend to be presented like games. If you buy a certain amount, by a certain date, under certain conditions, then you just might qualify for higher levels of discounts, so you’re encouraged to play the game with gusto in order to “save”.

Gamification of commerce increases interest, emotional involvement, and in the end, how much we spend. But there’s a lot more to gamification than just selling things.

Games can help us learn. In fact, playing games is how we learned most of what we learned as kids. It’s how we learned to play by the rules, to cooperate, to compete, and to focus our attention on accomplishing meaningful goals, goals that were given meaning by the game. Games for adults need to be more sophisticated, to be sure, but even grown-ups still appreciate rules, competition, rewards and achievements, mystery and discovery, and in the best games, the story.

When we apply gamification to education we engage students of all ages in the most natural learning process in the world, much the way we were engaged in games as kids. After all, just because it’s good for you doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.

If you’d like to know what makes games fun, and learning fun, here’s a useful resource:

Gamification of Learning, with Karl Kapp


Keith Ellis is a best-selling author, elearning specialist, online training mentor, and management training consultant. He is best known as the author of a classic book about setting goals, THE MAGIC LAMP, as well as the thriller, NO SECRETS, an Amazon Kindle #1 best seller. He is Head of Federal Training for lynda.com, home of the world’s most effective online training and elearning.

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