Gamification

Gene S Lysko, Medical Writer  

Gamification is the application of select elements of game theory and game mechanics to solve non-game problems, such as negative behavior.

We’re not playing games here. A patient’s adherence to a treatment plan and a subject’s compliance with research protocols are stubborn and common problems in medicine and clinical research, respectively. The reasons for poor treatment adherence or compliance may be simple, or dizzyingly complex—and sometimes both. “I forgot” can be the result of simple and complex behavioral processes. Grounded in an understanding of certain aspects of human nature, gamification may provide an opportunity to help establish healthy habits and overcome treatment obstacles.

Why it works

People like to compete. They have a natural desire to achieve and to be recognized or rewarded for their success. Gamification takes advantage of these and other traits, engaging people to help them “do better,” eg, following their doctor’s instructions, keeping their appointments, completing their diaries, honoring prohibitions and restrictions specified in research protocols.

Complex gamification systems are built around peoples’ desire to be part of a community, and to occupy a certain position within that community. This position, which we can call status, can be an important source of motivation for many people, as can the opportunity to increase one’s rank in the community. Through the lens of gamification, status is gained and advanced by winning points and unlocking higher and higher levels, in effect defining one’s rank in the community. Points might also be earned with the goal of redeeming them for rewards such as gift cards. Encouragement within a game can be given with simple measures of success such as a progress bar or the awarding of stars or badges.

Examples

Status – Congratulations, you’ve taken all of your medicine today! You are now in the top 20%!

Encouragement - You can do it. You’re halfway there already!