Design experience firm Method has been publishing a series of explorations in human-centered design called 10×10. The most recent installation, Gaming for Behavior Change captures insight into the nature of game mechanics, and how these mechanics engage individuals in ways that are important for all interaction designers to consider. Below are the four critical attributes of games the report covers, alongside our further insight on how these concepts impact design and behavior.
Make it fun and entertaining. Nintendo’s Wii console engages people in exercise through a new and entertaining game experience. Exercise is a by-product of the experience, which is perceived as play rather than work. Nintendo effectively converted “no pain, no gain” into “have fun, will exercise.”
Games are an abstraction of reality. As noted in our recent post How Gaming Can Change The World, this abstraction can be precisely what motivates and provides value to individuals. We traditionally think of ‘reality’ as inherently better than ‘gaming’; studies in cognitive science are discovering that this is not necessarily the case.
Make it competitive for users. Nike+ is a small device that records the distance and pace of a walk or run. Nike+ also allows runners to meet and challenge other runners, ask questions, and give feedback.
The emergence of social competition is fueled by the availability and sharing of personal data. When personal behaviors are translated into points and digital values, these can be easily tracked and shared and compared with others. The upcoming Epic Win to-do application translates otherwise mundane tasks into points and digital displays; we expect to see this idea evolve into individuals comparing and getting social value out of being the best “doer” among their networks.
Make it visual. When Toyota began visualizing fuel consumption for drivers in their Prius models, they created a “fuel economy game,” allowing the driver to minimize gas usage with real time information.
This concept speaks to the idea of “glance-able information” – the idea there is value to be created in making complex information easily understandable and accessible at-a-glance. Manifestations of this range from concept umbrellas like Materous’ Forecast, which gives off a colored glow based on your likelihood of needing it, to foursquare visualizations like Weeplaces that allow individuals to quickly understand their habits and react accordingly.
Make it rewarding. Research shows that financial rewards are not effective at encouraging sustained, long-term behavior change. Rewards that create social value tied to a meaningful cause are more effective over the long term and have a greater likelihood of encouraging others to do the same.
The reason rewards are important to motivating behavior is because we need to feel that the actions we will do in the world result in an intuitively linked reaction from the world – an idea sometimes expressed as the feedback loop. Because of the complexity of the world, it is often the case that our actions in reality don’t have any related impact on the world that we can intuitively infer. That is to say, that for simple actions like flipping a switch, we can intuitively see that a light will then come on, but it is less intuitive for us to see how doing something like going to the gym will result in any feedback – the end result takes shape only months or years later. Game mechanics like those captured in Epic Win provide that tangible, immediate feedback for actions that we would normally see no feedback from.