Gamification

If there's one thing that I've learned from two and a half decades of computer gaming it is that the quest, a task given as contribution to a greater narrative with a clear and difficult but achievable goal, is a compelling driver of determination, co-operation and in some cases competition. 'Quest' is of course an anachronism suited to the sword-wielding, spell-slinging fantasy roleplaying games typified by The Legend of Zelda, World of Warcraft or Skyrim but the parallels are clear in contemporary games where 'missions' have replaced the paradigm of sequential levels and stages of older, more limited video games.

Some people say video games rot your brain, but I think they work different muscles that maybe you don’t normally use.
— Ezra Koenig

The basic principle of the quest though is universal and all too familiar: go and do a task. One important thing about a quest is that there's something to look forward to at the end. Now you might draw a direct comparison here with the day job; you go to work, perform your contracted task(s) and are remunerated. This isn't a good parallel. The essentials for life, a home, food to eat and warmth - survival - are entirely too necessary to be a compelling quest reward. A difficult task done for the sake of survival is a struggle, it is strife but not a quest. A quest needs narrative, it needs a purpose beyond the interests of the hero alone and the hero must face the possibility of failure. A quest requires the hero to rise above the limitations of his abilities to improve them and himself. Victory should be it's own reward, but need not be the exclusive outcome and that victory should make a difference to more than just the hero his or her self, whether that is recognised or not.

So the literary hero might save the world, and walk through hell, fight off armies and face down his immortal nemesis. If we reign in our imagination to the more mundane though, each of these quest principles can be applied to the most grand-scale of real world problems: curing epidemic illness, solving global scarcity, guarding against potentially apocalyptic disasters. If you reign in your imagination a little more, to the direct experiences of regular folks, then maybe it's getting the Church roof repaired, helping to make your kid's school outing an educational and inspirational success or campaigning for your preferred local government candidate. There are truly endless possibilities to view a contribution to a cause that extends beyond our personal interests and individual capabilities as a real world 'quest'.

Games offer another form of goal that helps to motivate our efforts by stimulating our competitiveness: scores. Often this is personal competition, we tend to approach tasks that we enjoy with the intention of doing them better than last time; more coins for Mario, more head-shots for Francis, a higher level in Tetris. These can just as easily be compared against the scores of others in, hopefully, friendly rivalry. A group of people competing with each other in contribution to a common goal is a powerful way to drive performance and to put a participant's level of satisfaction in their own hands. It allows the measurement of personal goals that we can tailor to our own abilities, time and indeed level of interest.

Another key to driving success in a game is the accessibility of the resources required to get the job done; possibly the biggest hurdle in any real world endeavour - particularly one large enough to warrant the contributions of a group of people. Resources usually come with a need for justification or for someone to accept a level of risk that most of us simply do not have the wherewithal to take on. Maybe it's a new project at work which so often have significant up-front costs and the gains are long-term, a new funding initiative on Kickstarter or a large charitable undertaking. The biggest hurdle to applying the lessons of gaming to driving a project forward may just be ensuring that the pressures of funding and resources do not fall on the 'gamers'. They may need to work for a specific allocation of resources, but they need to be available.

These ideas can be combined, as they are in games, as motivational tools and as a reward mechanism. Points might also translate to budget allocation, trophies can be earned for project milestones or achieving an objective ahead of your colleagues or co-conspirators. All efforts, all the competition, pulled together in an effort to reach the top of the tower and save the princess.