Monday, 30 July 2012

The Fun Theory

The Fun Theory (a Volkswagen Initiative) argues, “fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better”.  They held a competition for people who had fun ways of encouraging good behaviour.  For example: a ‘bottle bank arcade’ to encourage recycling, ‘piano stairs’ to encourage exercise, ‘the world’s deepest bin’ to encourage people to properly dispose of litter and ‘The Speed Camera Lottery’ (shown below).

The theory is obviously a bit of fun and good marketing but it did have impressive results.  For example, the Speed Camera Lottery ‘game’ reduced the average speed of cars on that road by 22% and the piano stairs meant that 66% more people than normal took the stairs over the escalator.  This gamification of everyday things seems to ‘nudge’ people’s behaviour in profound and measurable ways.  This begs the question, how far can you nudge people and in what ways?

Companies such as FavorTree, Practically Green and Crowd Rise have already made use of these ideas.  They have adopted gamification to encourage generosity, sustainability and charitable donations.  

However, gamification is not just being used to encourage social good.  Gartner (the world's leading information technology research and advisory company) predicts over 70% of Global 2000 organisations will have at least one gamified application by 2014 (see source).  Gamification (as we have discussed in previous blogs) describes how game mechanics can be applied to non-game environments to motivate people and change their behaviour.  Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner argues that "successful and sustainable gamification can convert customers into fans, turn work into fun, or make learning a joy. The potential is enormous."  Therefore, gamification seems set to be popular amongst charities, businesses, educators and so on in the future.

The reason that gamification works to steer behaviour is rooted in basic psychology.  Positive reinforcement is a form of conditioning championed by B. F. Skinner.  It is essentially where you reward a behaviour you want to be repeated.  The reward of having fun doing something seems to be enough to make people change their behaviour.  Skinner argued that positive reinforcement is superior to punishment in altering behaviour as it results in lasting behavioural change.  Punishment, on the other hand, only changes behaviour temporarily.

A New York Times article, ‘Making Good Citizenship Fun’ argues that this may be why government schemes to steer behaviour (exhortation and fines) are largely ineffective.  The article also gives many more examples of how fun has been used to steer behaviour.

Therefore, fun and gamification seem to be gaining popularity as people begin to understand their power and as psychological theories catch up with technology.  Fun can be a powerful conditioning device and is being adopted in many sectors.  The Fun Theory: that “fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better” seems to have some solid foundations and is becoming more widely accepted and made use of.  Gamification seems set to be a common feature in our lives and one that may make our lives much more fun.

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