In 2018, for example, Disney gamified working conditions to increase productivity for laundry workers at its hotels. Scoreboards kept track of daily goals, and if you didn’t reach them your name appeared yellow or red to broadcast your failure. Workers called this system, “an electronic whip,” according to a deep dive that Fast Company magazine did into the “dark side of gamifying work.”
Weback said that ethical gamification starts by keeping the user in mind. What specifically do you want the use to do, and how do you structure an experience around that desired behavior in a fun and ethical way?
“Just because people will use these gamified approaches and do the things that you want them to do—that doesn’t mean that you should be doing that,” Hunter said. “And that’s the sort of care and responsibility that we all need to take in relation to any of these sorts of approaches.”
The Future of Gamification
During the pandemic, educators and businesses integrated gamification to address disturbances in work and learning.
Gamification platforms like Classcraft, for example, helped teachers create “boss battles” with which to fight Zoom fatigue. Every day, students engage in a new battle wherein they can defeat the boss or villain of the story only by completing a series of educational quests—for example, math problems or reading comprehension questions. This strategy turns classwork into a collaborative and creative way to motivate students within a digital space.
Corporations similarly gamified corporate learning for training. Global professional services firm PwC, for example, for years has used a trivia game called PowerUp! for onboarding and development, which it revamped during the pandemic.
“None of us could have known that the world would change in March of 2020 due to COVID-19,” PwC Chief Learning Officer Leah Houde said in July during a virtual media presentation. “And yet our digital upskilling investment really helped enable us to quickly and seamlessly pivot to learning, working and leading virtually. One of the things that we did was adjust our PowerUp! games for the current environment.”
The trivia game helped PwC train and develop more than 3,000 virtual interns when many other companies were cutting internship programs altogether.
In schools with children and in the workplace with adults, gamified tactics in digital spaces create community that is often missing when sitting through an online lecture or watching a video. They also drive users to continue learning on their own. For those reasons and more, gamification is poised to be a cornerstone of online learning for years and decades to come.
“Games are this incredible motivator,” Hunter said. “If you can wrap up a process inside some kind of game elements, then people will do the most amazing things.”