Fun and games with research

12th September, 2013

Is it possible to turn research into game? Gamification is the process of applying game design theory and techniques to everyday situations to allow for better interaction, higher levels of engagement and most importantly, higher productivity. Gamification works by providing users with leveraged incentives that can scale with their input; many day to day tasks that provide reward lose their allure due to habituation, but with gamification the reward scale is dynamic, especially when competing against other colleagues or individuals.

Whilst the word gamification can turn some people off (due to the connotations of video games), it has to be made clear that it has nothing to do with actually playing them. Gamification can be used to drive business forward, or in this case, promote research into a variety of projects. Deploying gamification amounts to conducting research surrounding your own products, your output in particular sectors, your employee productivity rates, your overall market share – it can be used to enhance most situations.

Fold.itFoldit was a puzzle based game that had its participants folding virtual protein shapes that fit researchers’ criteria. The participants were inadvertently working towards solving a protein structure problem that had caused researchers problems for decades. Through gamification the issue was solved in ten days.

The Foldit game is an extreme example of gamification positively effecting people’s lives.  But realistically, that is what gamification is: researching an issue, identifying how to improve it and developing a situation where individuals can thrive. On a research survey basis, gamification can be organised in simple formats, such as framing questions as a task to improve response details or providing feedback loops in an online survey to maintain interest.

We know that gamification cannot and most likely will not force people to have fun – that is impossible. At work and at home, there are other modes of entertainment that we can access, we understand that. But what we can do with gamification is make moments where we are traditionally unengaged more directly stimulating than previous encounters, in the hope that at times we will get better feedback from our respondents.