Gamification of Health is No Game

If you read the recent article in the Wall Street Journal on gamification’s emerging role in health, you’re already aware that digital gaming techniques are proving to be an effective behavioral game changer. The article explores case studies (including RedBrick clients) that demonstrate gamification techniques are engaging employees and shaping lasting health improvements. But what’s behind their success? How are game mechanics tapping into health engagement and behavior change motivations so elusive in yesterday’s employer wellness initiatives? And maybe more importantly – is the early success of healthy behavior gamification a passing fad?

No fad.

Gamification is not the same as gaming. Gamification applies the techniques of game mechanics to shape target behaviors. The reason they work, and will continue to work shaping those target behaviors is they leverage the power of immediate reward and social elements.

Assigning points to activities, advancing through levels, using badges as status-markers, and integrating surprise and delight are ways to make an employee’s personal investment in future good health gratifying in the here-and-now. These elements tap into the universal human desires for skill mastery, achievement, autonomy, and social acceptance. They reinforce small successes in ways that have a profound impact on self-confidence and self-efficacy, creating positive associations that last.

By wrapping game mechanics around a desired habit, you can create an experience that drives sustained behavior change more effectively than didactic or knowledge-based approaches. Incorporating the social dimension takes gamification a step further by allowing employees to work collectively, competitively, or both at the same time.

Growing evidence suggests that gamified health behavior change approaches are out-competing traditional clinical and behavioral approaches and at a fraction of the cost. With healthier employees as the outcome, gamification of health has quickly proven to be serious business.

3 responses to this post.

  1. First mobile apps and now games. But getting people engaged is the key regarldess of the medium. We’ve seen the impact of Wi on physical activity with kids even parents in our childhood obesity work for Greater Rochester Helth Foundation with games like Dance, Dance Revoltution. Jen Nelson, one of our bloggers, was just talking about the impact of mobile health apps which have some defintie game-like qualities for adults.


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