How Gamification Can Make Your Life Better (Maybe Even Extend It)

First of all, let's clear up a few things:
  • I am not a gamer. I like games but I don't play nearly enough to consider myself a gamer. Case in point: I would rather watch hubby play Skyrim than play myself.
  • I am however a fan of gaming: not marathon losing-your-job-and-family gaming, but I do appreciate a well-made game and the benefits from playing in moderation.
  • I am also a BIG fan of gamification, the process of applying gaming principles to other aspects of life: work, relationships, home. I use it on myself and I use it on my clients (or team) each time I bring toys or games into one of my meetings.
  • I am also a fan of Jane McGonigal, the game developer who is pretty much the poster child for gamification.
Which is why I was very interested to sit an watch Jane's TedTalk on The Game That Can Give You 10 Extra Minutes of Life. I enjoyed watching the 20 minute video (below). And a week later I still find myself thinking about the message and the discussion in the YouTube and TedTalks comments.

In brief: Jane reviews some standard games-are-good-for-you stats and then gets into a personal experience where she was ill, suicidal and used gamification of the experience to get herself out of her dark mental state. She enlisted family to participate with her, developed some very simple rules and within a short time, started getting better. She shared it online and people all over the world started using it and getting better. 

Gimmick? Crackpot? Nope.

It would seem that she tapped into a very basic human principle: people who survive a traumatic experience come out stronger and more focused on their life goals: "the top five traits of post traumatic growth are essentially the direct opposite of the top five regrets of dying." That is: work less, stay in touch with friends, be happier, express self and live a truer life. So the idea of gamification of the experience of getting better (and essentially of living) can be a strong motivator.

Jane's game has a simple concept: people collect "points" by completing actions that are good for them. Personally, I think that the term "gamification" may be new but it's definitely not a new concept. We respond to rewards: that's why companies entice us with point systems, incentives, freebies, etc. Consider Weight Watchers, FourSquare, coffee cards. We've been doing it since we were little: anyone ever clean more than just their room in exchange for TV time? (We didn't get allowance as little kids.) I'm sure you can think of your own examples. 

So using incentives in our own lives to help manage our own behaviour is not a big stretch. If you use a timer or stopwatch or an app that turns off your browser, you've essentially gamified your workday (if I can get through this task in x time, I will be able to y). So what's the difference in gamifying your recovery? 

The discussion threads on both the YouTube video and TedTalks pages are as filled with nays as yays. Folks debate the concept, calling it silly, some even saying that encouraging people to game more is trite considering all the problems that need solving in the world. I saw more than one commenter refute this argument, saying that happy people solve more problems. Personally, I buy into that philosophy. 

Jane is on a mission to remind us that we can make our lives more interesting (and possibly longer than they would have otherwise been) if we including gaming principles, and yes even game a bit every once in a while. Because on our death beds, there is a distinct possibility we will wish we'd played a bit more. So why not play more in the course of every day life? Sounds like a life worth living...