Game Smarter, Part II: Pimp Your Life

Welcome back to our mini-series on gamification and how it can enhance task and job performance, when used effectively. Last time, we defined gamification, and discussed what differentiates it from “gaming” and “playing.” Additionally, we briefly talked about what is so motivating about gamification, and some specific motivating elements that must be present for it to work. If you haven’t read that article, I do suggest checking it out because the following information will build on that.

Without further ado, though, let’s get into how to utilize game design (gamification) in a meaningful and non-intrusive way.


In a perfect scenario, the event or task must have some sort of intrinsic value within it already, otherwise the gamified enforcer/reward is the only thing keeping the person doing it. To put that another way, that would be showing up to work only because it pays you, and not because you like/believe in what you’re doing.

Image result for head desk

At any rate, gamification should start the ball rolling for developing long-term behaviors/effects that continue without gamification. Yes, when it comes to gamification, we’re talking about modifying behaviors and creating new habits.* Except the joy of this is that it won’t a painful change, since you’ll be motivated and – dare I say it – having fun while you do it!

For instance, picking up laundry is more fun when you get 200 XP for it, bringing you closer to your 1000 XP goal, after which you level up and earn fill-in-the-blank reward. But, picking up laundry can also be intrinsically rewarding, once you get going: the room looks nicer, guests don’t awkwardly step around your clothes, your shirts aren’t rumpled when you go out, etc. Gamification, though, has pushed you to perform the task and thus uncover those intrinsic (internal) rewards, and enhance them with extrinsic (external) ones.

Image result for snow white chores
My goal is to be this happy when doing chores.

If a task is completely meaningless, however (“let’s gamify watching paint dry”), no amount of gamification will make that task intrinsically rewarding.

The take-away message here is that gamification isn’t a crutch. It’s a means of adding to or enhancing the rewards that already exist for performing a task.

Of course, each behavior or task might require different rewards, in order to be relevant to the situation. This situational relevance demands that the gamified task uses motivators/rewards that are meaningful to the user and to the situation. Exercise motivations might not be the same as educational ones, and my motivators might not be the same as you.

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One of the pitfalls that you might have already thought about is that gamification might have a negative impact on self-determination. As some of you mentioned last time, people might begin to rely too much on the gamified elements of the task, and so lose their ability to be motivated intrinsically (internally) without the promise of an extrinsic reward. After all, it’s impossible to gamify everything a person does in his/her life, and life does not naturally reward people in the same way games do.

But, like I’ve alluded to, gamification should be an enhancement, not a replacement. Not only does this mean that gamification cannot and should not be used as an end in and of itself, but also that not every task should be gamified. Let me say it again: gamification is an enhancement. Think of it like using spices when cooking: “a little” is good, but that doesn’t mean that “excessive amounts” is going to be better. If done correctly, in most situations gamification will not result in a loss of intrinsic motivation, and will simply make the task a little more interesting/bearable/fun.*

When gamifying a task, it’s of paramount importance to check how much external control the gamified elements have on a person. The less external control/motivation available during a task, the more self-motivation must occur in order to complete the task. Finding the line between motivation and hand-holding is key when adding game elements to a task in order to optimize effectiveness but not cripple a person’s self-motivation for the task in the long-run.

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But there’s a catch. Too often, businesses see that a certain technique worked, and so will strive to copy it without thinking about what made it successful. This happens in games (think of FarmVille knockoffs, or Yooka-Laylee versus Banjo-Kazooie), and it happens in gamification, too.

Meaningful rewards and incentives can’t simply be replaced with meaningless achievements or badges and expected to be just as motivating and rewarding. Knowing why a certain aspect is motivating is just as important as knowing what is motivating, which we’ll be talking about it a little bit.

Some people believe that if tasks are gamified in a work environment, then gamification will put the needs of the person over the needs of the organization. This is possible. However, when the goal itself is community-minded (i.e., completing a task that is beneficial to other people), I don’t think that it would be harmful to motivate the individual in a way that is meaningful to him or her.

we can do it

I have heard arguments against gamification that start with some sort of variation of “Back in my day…” or somehow blame Milennials for their poor work ethic in the same breath (sigh) but, again, optimizing a person’s reward system, fostering new and healthy habits, and motivating them to do a task is nothing to sneeze at, as the saying goes.

Additionally, gamification in a work environment can even result in foster deeper connections between participants, to non-game activities (which is the point!), and to the participating organization (i.e., the job), because:

  1. Brains that fire together, wire together, and so a group of people participating in a similar activity will naturally begin to bond
  2. Gamification creates habits and enhances intrinsic rewards, so a person’s relationship to the task will (potentially) improve
  3. People like when their job/corporation/boss is fun and takes their needs into account in a sort of “you scratch my back…” way, promoting loyalty to the company.

So, with all of this knowledge in hand, how can someone start gamifying a task?

Press “Start”

Gamification is theoretically simple in the same way writing a novel is simple: you have an idea, you plan it out, and you create it. That is to say, it’s simple in theory, but the balance of task, motivator (gamified element), and a person’s individual needs is a delicate one that needs to be carefully considered when deciding which game elements to use for a task.

Image result for juggling
A juggling act, for sure.

A good place to start would be answering two questions, “how?” and “what?”

The “What?” questions need to be answered before beginning to assign game elements to a task, and may include:

  • What is the underlying non-game activity?
  • What are the desired outcomes for this foundation activity?
  • What, if anything, are the intrinsic rewards for this activity?
  • What game elements would enhance this experience/these rewards?

The “How?” questions come up once the “Why?” questions have been answered, and during the actual design of the newly-gamified task:

  • How will the game elements motivate the players?
  • How will progress or achievements be measured?
  • How will each game element enhance the non-gaming task?
  • How can this be incorporated into the every-day with minimal intrusion?

If you’re thinking of gamifying a task, remember what we talked about last time about “working for free” and why games are so motivating. Ownership and autonomy are intrinsically rewarding and motivating, so gamification may enhance this (we’ll talk about this more next time). If a person agrees to the task, they will be naturally more motivated to complete it.*

Image result for go go go gif

In addition, other game elements that can be utilized during gamification include, but are not limited to:

  • Clear goals
  • Trackable progress
  • Feedback during the task and upon completion
  • Creating mini-challenges
  • Utilizing a theme or story
  • Points/leveling system
  • Leaderboards
  • Unlockable achievements or badges

Of course, this list is far from exhaustive, but it should give a good starting point for the gamification process.

Examples of Gamification in Action

Before we go, I wanted to point out a few examples of gamification in progress.

Did you know there is a piano stairwell in Sweden?

This is probably one of my favorites. Basically, Volkswagen (I don’t know why) hypothesized that making mundane things fun would motivate people to do them,and so they installed a working keyboard into the steps of a subway station. Amazingly, people began preferring to take the stairs over the escalator.

Credit to Rolighetsteorin

While my music therapist heart explodes with happiness at how music is being used to motivate and reward people, this is also an excellent gamification method. People agree to the rules (take the stairs and not the escalator), and to complete the “task” (climb the stairs). They agree to the reward system (the sound of the keys).

But Athena, I hear you type. They just did it.

Yes. That’s why it’s such a powerful example of gamification. The people who took the stairs made all of those calculations swiftly and subconsciously, and decided that the “fun” (the piano sounds) was work the “effort” (going up the stairs, hopping around the keys, etc.). That’s gamification. It’s why video games pull us in, and why gamification works. When done well, gamification can motivate us to make mental calculations subconsciously and almost instantly about whether to proceed with a task or not.

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Tasks can also be gamified through augmented reality games, which can key into a person’s interests, and have the added benefit of being social, providing intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

Crowdsourcing games like FoldIt have helped scientists with important medical breakthroughs, and task management games like EpicWin turns your to-do list into a game.

Image result for epic win

Recyclebank even gamifies the act of recycling – a great example of rewarding an individual, but benefitting many different people. Even using biofeedback (using machines to become aware of and gain conscious control over otherwise involuntary processes like breathing or stress levels) is a form of gamification.

So the possibilities for gamifying tasks are endless. This concludes the two-part gamification aspect of this miniseries. In a few weeks I’ll be back with more on how games and gamification might be used to enhance education practices. In the meantime, happy October and enjoy the Halloween posts!

Do you use gamification in your personal or work life? What other game elements do you think are motivating for otherwise non-game tasks? If you were going to gamify one task in your life, what might it be? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
~ Athena
**Extra content available on this topic on Patreon!**


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Deterding, S. (2012). Gamification: Designing for motivation. Forum: Social Mediator,  July-August, 14-17.

Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. (2011). From game design elements to gamefulness: Defining “gamification.” MindTrek, Sept. 28-30.

Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., & Sarsa, H. (2014).Does gamification work? – A literature review of empirical studies on gamification. 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Science

This slideshow could not be started. Try refreshing the page or viewing it in another browser.

, 3025-3034. doi: 10.1109/HICSS.2014.377

Huotari, K., & Hamari, J. (2012). Defining gamification – A service marketing perspective. MindTrek 2012, October 3-5, 17-22.

Nicholson, S. (2012). A user-centered theoretical framework for meaningful gamification. Paper presented at Games+Learning+Society 8.0, Madison, WI.


  1. So gamification is sort of like the spice to boring life tasks. I like how you explained that! Thumbs up to your Patreon notes again! I can’t believe there’s a place with keyboard stairs. Those look fun!! I really need to go there someday. 🎹

    Question answering:

    Do you use gamification in your personal or work life?
    When I go to work, they pay me! But seriously, my job has an interesting goal system. Each year we are rewarded with more monies for achieving things, which are all tracked by an HR scorekeeping-like system. Personal life wise, I stuck to my workout/diet plan because I wanted to be more like my shero. Tracking my workouts and seeing results all rewarded me greatly.

    What other game elements do you think are motivating for otherwise non-game tasks?
    Wow this question made me think real hard… I’m very disappointed that cutting grass in real life doesn’t reward me with rupees. That’s all I came up with, haha. Gaining XP & leveling up can be applied to almost anything in real life given the right tracking system, I think.

    If you were going to gamify one task in your life, what might it be?
    I’m still working on my reward system for dragging myself out of bed in the morning. I’ll keep you posted if I figure one out. Hey, I think coffee might be the motivator… and I could track how often I hit the snooze button on my alarm… 🤔

    I’m really looking forward to the rest of this miniseries. Yay for awesomely spooky Halloween posts! 🎃🦇👻 Sigh… I think I’m addicted to emojis.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good analogy. I suppose one could also say it’s a “secret ingredient” at this point, with people only beginning to know how to most effectively use it… But I like the spice analogy.

      Thanks for answering the questions! That’s great that your job has something in place like that, and that you incorporate the elements for your workout routine. It’s also very sad that mowing the lawn does not yield rupees….

      If you ever perfect the “getting out of bed in the morning” game, please let me know….

      For what it’s worth, those are very cute emojis.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good managers will motivate and reward their staff in ways that work for them on an individual level, and gamification does carry a lot of the things plenty of people are motivated by. It makes routine tasks fun, it delivers immediate positive feedback, it provides a new, easily quantifiable challenge for the people like me who get motivated by that, etc.

    My current workplace has a lot of these challenges around health and wellness. It’s been surprising to me how much just having a challenge to overcome does motivate me to make changes. Of course, the fact that they financially incentivise success is a big motivator on top of the gamification.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true. In a perfect world, we would be recognized and rewarded for our work in ways that were meaningful to us (and to how our brain reward system works), which would, in theory, motivate us even more.

      That’s great that your workplace put something in place for wellness. And it’s amazing how far a little friendly competition can go… although I’m sure the financial aspect is a big plus, too. My friend’s workplace had an exercise club (that had various “challenges” and competitions) and it was surprisingly effective in getting even the most sedentary people up and moving!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great conclusion to the series. I like how you brought out alot of the benefits to the whole idea of gamification. Last series myself and many others right away focused on negative aspects so it’s good to see it has some great uses in so many different areas.

    Wild thought, do you think WordPress is setup in a slightly gamified way? I just thought while reading this, the way it tracks its stats and presents you with milestones you hit once in a while sounds like a subtle version of this. Your thought?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I’m so glad you liked it 🙂 You’re right that there are definitely two sides to every coin, and it’s important to be able to chat about both of them!

      What an interesting question! Based on that description, yes, WordPress is set up in a gamified way. It seems to loosely fit the criteria I talked about, doesn’t it? No wonder it’s so much fun to write here! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I forgot to mention this in the previous gamification post, but I am finding these articles and the one about conscious gaming super helpful. 😀

    I’ve been wondering where educational or workplace activities that involve play and have rules, but no reward, fall. I’ve seen them being referred as examples of gamification, but they seem to be missing some of the elements that you have used to define it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah! I’m glad! I’m trying to be better about balancing video game-specific posts and the more psych “behind the curtain” posts, so I’m glad you’re finding the psych posts helpful… I’ve obviously been on a kick recently! haha

      Are you talking about the idea behind the “educational games” like Mario Teaches Typing and things like that? Part of the power of gamification is what makes games so alluring – we *agree* to the rules, the task, and the reward system, so if we’re “okay” or we “enjoy” whatever small reward we get, that’s gamification. But the problem is that sometimes we don’t really like the reward/it’s not motivating… so that’s just gamification done poorly. I’m not sure if that addresses what you were talking about or not, but you’re absolutely right that “gamified” tasks can definitely miss the mark if not designed well!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes I use gamification for something I call it “The Quest.” I wrote a post about it back in July. It’s basically helping me set good, healthy habits for writing, working out and advancing my career, among other things.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bit late to the party, but I pretty much gamify most of my classes, and the kids and youths absolutely love them. Hardly ever get a complaint about ‘ye olde boring lessons’.

    Everything can be turned into a game when you think about it. Sure, some days something might get a little broken and you have to errata things on the spot, but it’s all worth it when you see the smiles on the students’ faces.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re never late when you have such a great comment! Thanks for stopping by!

      That’s awesome that you gamify things for your students. I’d agree that with enough creativity anything can be turned into a game. I wonder if you think it’s possible to gamify *too* much? Or is too much of this good thing simply better?


  7. It’s about striking the right balance — too much gamification, and the lesson leans towards incidence, which may cause the student to miss out on important parts of the lesson; too little, and it can feel contrived.


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