Gamification and Serious Games

English: A newly unboxed Gold Classic Controll...

A few weeks back  I attended the Useful Social Media conference in New York. It was refreshing to meet people face-to-face, to learn about the new and inventive ways companies are using social media, and to commiserate over the many challenges and roadblocks that still exist when it comes to corporate social media. In many ways social has seen a great evolution, but in other ways social is in its infancy. When it comes to gamification, 2012 shined a spotlight on gaming and game mechanics – the strenghts, the opportunities, and the room for growth.

In a pre-conference workshop, gamification platform provider, Bunchball summarized the game mechanics that motivate and engage. They talked about the importance of progress (levels in games, miles and points, progress bars), status (standings in leaderboards, likes and followers, communities, groups and teams), and rewards (access to exclusives and perks, early boarding/upgrades, recognition). More importantly, the key takeaway was that gamification works best when tied to a business case.

This line of thinking led me to research “serious gaming.” With serious gaming, the objective is solving a problem rather than entertainment. It’s not about gaming for gaming sake, or gaming to increase Likes, but gaming that meets a business objective. Serious games can be seen in industries including defense, education, science, health care, city planning, and more. In fact, serious gaming is so pervasive (perhaps so much so that you don’t even “see” it anymore) that by 2020 it may be fully embedded into our daily lives.

So, what are some interesting and impactful serious games? Take a look. This is not an inclusive list. Feel free to comment and share your favorites.

  • Foldit, by the University of Washington, is a platform where players can help solve puzzles related to science. In 2011 they created a  crowd-sourced challenge to unlock the mystery of how a key protein may help cure HIV. The game drew 46,000 participants whose gameplay took just 10 days to solve a problem scientists had been working on for 15 years.
  • America’s Army, by the U.S. Army, is one of the most popular examples of a serious game. Launched in 2002, it is an action shooting game that accurately simulates real military training and combat with the unstated goal of encouraging players to enlist in the real U.S. military.
  • The Magi and the Sleeping Star, a diabetes educational game where adolescents and adults with Type 1 diabetes help the young hero of the game, who has Type 1 diabetes, get control of his blood sugar level.
  • World Without Oil, players get a feel for what life might be like during a global oil crisis. Raises the awareness of an unhealthy dependence on oil by looking at economic, climate, and quality-of-life issues.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to make the world better through games, take a look at Jane McGonigal.

What a wonderful application of creativity. Happy gaming!

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A version of this article was first posted as Gamification and Serious Games at

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