The Gamification of Life

“The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.”
Charles Kettering

When I was born, there were no personal computers, no Internet, no cell-phones, no Wikipedia, no Google, no web-sites, no blogs and no Facebook. It is difficult to understand how anybody could communicate effectively or get much done at all.

Today is my 44th birthday and the world has changed completely.  I am in awe of the technological inventions that have occurred in my lifetime, and I am amazed to see how my kids absorb all this technology into their lives as if thousands of years of evolution had prepared their brains for this.

The next couple of decades will likely see even bigger changes than I have seen in my lifetime. One of these changes may be the gamification of life. Not only are we likely to see people spend much more time in increasingly sophisticated virtual worlds, but we will probably also see game features break out of the virtual world and enter every part of our real lives.

Jane McGonigal, a game designer and researcher at the Institute for the Future, thinks this is a good thing. Indeed, she has calculated that we should be increasing the number of hours spent playing from 3 to 21 billion hours per week if we want to survive the next century on this planet. Here is her brilliant TED talk explaining how games make us better persons.

Education is the most obvious area for massive gamification over the next decade or so, as children are designed to learn through games and play. With the amazing technological capabilities we now have available (as evidenced by massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft and FarmVille), I can’t believe teachers are still writing endless phrases on the blackboard, requiring the kids to copy and memorize them.

I personally disliked history classes in school, but I warmed considerably to the topic when reading Ken Follett’s amazing books (The Pillars of the Earth, etc.) and I am sure I would absolutely love the topic if I learned it through a massively multiplayer online game, where I could interact with historical characters and try to influence history.  Being immersed in a topic through a game is surely a better way to learn things than copying abstract sentences from a blackboard.

Absolutely everything can be made fun through games and gamification: One of the most boring activities I can think of is to help other people solve their programming problems, yet has managed to make thousands of people solve millions of programming problems for free, by turning the task into a “game” where you can earn reputation and karma by solving difficult and important programming problems. Foldit has made thousands of ordinary people work on protein folding to help develop cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s and HIV/AIDS. With a little creativity you can also get people to throw their garbage in the trash can, use stairs instead of escalators, and reduce speeding.  The topic is clearly not important. Some of the most successful games of the last few years are about relatively boring work like farming (FarmVille, Farm Frenzy), waitressing (Diner Dash), and child care (Nanny Mania). It is the game thinking and game mechanics behind the activities that make all the difference.

If we can harness the power of games, we can make work dramatically more satisfying, we can modernize our antiquated education systems, we can direct creativity toward solving the world’s most serious problems, and we can engage and connect people who currently feel excluded due to physical, psychological or economic disadvantages. We can also limit our tendency to buy ever increasing amounts of stuff just to show off, as there will be other much more interesting ways of showing status in a gamified world. In summary, through games and gamification we can potentially fix most of what is wrong with the world at the moment, and growing older doesn’t sound nearly as terrifying in a gamified world.

Do you think gaming can help make a better world? Or are they just a distraction? Leave a reply below.


I believe games are an excellent tool for solving problems, learning about the world, and learning about ourselves. I'm presently working on an education thesis looking at how teachers can use existing games to teach comprehensive skills and content.

Life is not a game. We need to stop playing games, stop distracting ourselves and get real.

I don't agree. Life is a game.
Do what you like to do because you enjoy it, don't take it all to serious.
After all, the best inventions have been made by people who went after their dreams instead of falling in line and being all serious and $#!t.

Of course people can play games if they want and that makes them happy, but they shouldn't forget what's real in this world. After playing games they have to go out. Otherwise playing games is falling in line too.

Games are like stories. You can learn from them, but you shouldn't get too into playing 'cause real life is always real life and games can never beat the real things.

Besides remembering what is real in this world doesn't mean you have to be all serious. If you take everything too seriously you have a wrong attitude! For example I recycle 'cause I know it's important and doesn't take too much effort, not because I think I have to do it. But if making recycling into a game makes it more fun for some people I'm all for it. Really.

TV and gaming industry shows a simplified world where (in most cases) the happy end occurs. One can get used to such a scheme that is not applicable in real world. This may lead to a danger situation where one observes that in games and TV everybody is going well, everybody has beautifull car and a lot of money. This may cause aggressive behavior and even more frustration than it is now.

Gamification can be an extremely good thing if dealt with in a constructive manner instead of increasing profits for companies!

Excellent summary.

Unfortunately most educational circles are very much closed of to these ideas. I have a bachelors in Game Development and it's really hard to explain what my purpose is (the entire gamification of education), both in the gaming business and in education.

But the advantages are enormously underestimated.

The biggest pitfall I've come across so far is the ever repeating job loss prevention dogma when introducing change. The idea that current teachers should have to reschool themselves in some way or another in the foreseeable future doesn't spring to mind so much, as they simply would get layed off in their opinion (what are they going to do when there aren't any students in class to teach?).

Currently there are a quite a number of research and applied projects going on, but they mostly focus on the design of the 'games' and their effects. Accordingly to the success of these projects, they will get implemented here and there, but mostly without participation of current generation of teachers. If we follow this course of action, their fears might be acknowledged and they will get left behind.

That's why an important step is to create a schooling platform for teachers to learn the tools and skills necessary for them to be ready and part of the gamification of education.

Codenamed "VUE-C" (Vision for Universal Education - Center), that platform is exactly what I'm trying to set up. And I invite anyone with usefull information, contacts, or motivation to help me with that.

Kim Karim

Khan academy is an excellent web site that implements game theory and education. At this point in technology, there is very little reason to have schools if children have access to a computer and internet. There is very little reason for teachers if parents are able to stay home with their children. A parent should be a child's best teacher. Besides, teaching degrees are a joke.

The problem with today's society is that game theory will be applied to the profit motive. Humans won't be solving our socio-economic problems via games. Instead, we will continue to play irrelevant games for entertainment (in general).

Khan academy, and others like it, is indeed an excellent resource and I've used it many times myself. But I consider it a transition fase between the current methods and technologies, and the 'gamified' educational system we could strive for.

I actually agree with everything you've said, but unfortunately I don't think you'll be able to push these ideas of great individualised education for everyone if you don't adres the job loss that goes with it. Most people who visit this site know it's inevitable, but try telling that to 6 million teachers in the US (if my google's search was correct)and elsewhere.

So if you look closely to what I said earlier, and to put it straightforward. I proposed that current teachers should be reschooled to be game developers/designers. Or at least a portion of them. We can increase the speed of gamification and cope with some job loss. And maybe more important, we can show effective massive reschooling of existing careers, which will be even more important in the future.

No need for classrooms and teachers 'as we know it'.

Hello Kim,
I love the sound of your project; I am also working on a hugely ambitious project with the aim of no less than creating the platform for everyone, but particularly young people, to reshape education together.
The web platform is called Change The Future.

Please email me at

You can find an overview of Change The Future here:

I'd love to find out more about your project and perhaps we can share insights and ideas :)


I love the whole concept and idea! Cheers Charlie, bless your soul.

Correction: Stack Overflow did not create a game as you allude to in your post, they have applied the use of some simple 'game mechanics' (things that games use to measure your progress and status) to the activity of asking and answering questions. They did NOT create a game.

This is exactly what gamification is! Your post throughout refers to gamification as the 'creation of games to build engagement'. However, games do not build long term engagement, they drive 'short term' behaviour change. If we applied this in the education sector, it would become very expensive very quickly because we have to continually create new educational games.

However, if you apply proper gamification to education, you will drive sustained long term engagement with the content. A great example of where this has been done is in Khan Academy. The use of game mechanics to measure progress and reputation mechanics to elevate status encourages engagement with the content over a sustained a longer time period.

I'm a user os stackoverflow for some time. The reputation points there is not treated as a game. It shows simply home many people thginks the actual post may be helpfull. Thats all. Additionaly it give a satisfaction to authors that they could help so many people. I think the reputation is not a game, it is a kind of simple satisfaction to be helpful.
The aim of a post is not to get points (like in a game). The aim is to make programming easier for others.

Happy belated birthday Ms Andersen.

I believe that games among other things are very dangerous and destructive as it comes to our sense of power. In other words, while we're happily in control of whatever is happening on our screens, the Zionist powers, bankers and related are in control of our lives - that's the reality we seem to love to game away.

bravo!!! at last....a refreshing down to earth comment.
cheers ross

I have learned more life lessons from games than from real life or real people. I no longer have to take their word for it, I can simply kill, steal, help or save and make my mind up about it's costs and benefits. I can unload my frustrations in computer generated characters instead of starting wars with real people. And who says entertainment can't be educational?

I love this idea/concept, games can be and are extremely sophisticated if you look beyond the surface. Some content and the constant war theme and dominantly competitive nature are not my personal choice for content but if someone where to forge new ground in the cooperative field then the possibility's are very enjoyable to ponder. I'll be doing something along these lines myself.

I personally use apps these days on my tablet that are based on cognitive psychology, i use them to aid my memory, concentration, focus, and general perceptual development. I love them though they can be frustrating at times, lol. There are math apps, English apps, science apps and physics games ect there's a lot out there. Fun!

This was a great article to read. I think you have a point. Gaming it something that can make learning the most boring of topics fun. I seen a video by RSA Animate about what motivates people and its not what you generally think (look up the surprising truth about what motivates us on YouTube). It mentions how humans love to master things and when we are rewarded for something we love doing it, like musicians. Why do they do it? Because of a love for bettering ourselves. If the most boring history topics as you said (I never liked history class either and loved Ken Follets books) were changed into games I think they would work acceptionally well for kids and it would also be much easier to remember a quest or adventure you took part in in a video game than a sentence that was written on a board.

I'm half your age but I remember the time before technology was everywhere. But I love it and ebrace it to make myself more productive and I love learning now. It does look like a waste of time at the moment I think because people still seem to see it for what it was back in the 90s. Not very good, buggy and just something fun to muck around on. I don't think many can see its vast potential if applied correctly as you have suggested

:) also I typed all of this on an iPad :P

that's actually already happened to me , a little game called age of empires taught me some stuff about history that was being taught in school while i was away at that time , which was long after i got the want of learning beaten out of me by the schools and long before i regained it......

extra credits also did a video about this around the same time apparently , they're a gamer dedicated topical show

I partially disagree with gamification making us better. Children should not be given iphones and ipads at an early age. They will have attention deficit issues, will become self centered, and will take technology for granted if they are introduced to this advanced technology at too early an age.

Not exposing kids to technology is like not wanting them to read books at an early age, which can also make them self-centered, not interested that much in "real life" and yes, they might not develop parts of their brains related to social skills but in turn, they are exposed to fantastic stories and descriptions of places and situations they've might never experience, via books, movies, internet, games, whatever, you name it. Now, are they "reality"? Maybe not, but moon traveling wasn't a reality when Jules Verne wrote about it either.
Of course, not all books/movies/games/internet media are award winning, thought provoking masterpices, I know 95% if not more is just mind-numbing time-wasting media, maybe decent entertainment at its best, but the problem doesn't lie there, but the solution to that is encouraging the production of the "good media" which I assure you, its not only limited to books anymore.

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems.Gamification is used in applications and processes to improve user engagement, return on investment, data quality, timeliness, and learning.

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