How Gaming Can Change Lives and Brands. (For the Better)

As a society, we love games.

And not just the graphics-accelerated frag-tastic ones, either.  Our clients consistently report that the gaming sections of their sites are one of their biggest traffic draws.  Sales of home gaming systems have skyrocketed and more causal gaming experiences like the Wii,, or mobile “time wasters” have introduced video gaming to cliché-defying demographics.

Structure for Success

But why are games so popular?  Let’s face it; the real world is often really hard.  Even when we do succeed at difficult tasks, our successes (and their associated benefits) are often unrecognizable.  For example, I hope to become a better writer.  When I finish this entry, will my skills have increased?  Even if they have, will I be able to notice a perceptible difference?  Without clear indicators, I’m unable to recognize my improvement as it happens.  Without a structured approach, how can I be sure that blog writing will improve my technique at all?

Games provide us with that structure for success.  In a game, progress is a steady path from point A to point B, and, once achieved, the results are instantly recognizable.  Successful goal completion is always accompanied by some extremely obvious reward or progress indication.  A high score, a siren, a new level, collecting $200, that addicting “pop” sound the balloons make in PopIt… you get the idea.  These rewards are what make games self-motivating.

It feels like popping bubble wrap...

Feels like popping bubble wrap...

This self-motivating property makes games extremely effective at changing behavior.  And it’s why our mothers turned everything into games when we were children.  (Clean your room and you get a gold star!)

Games that Change Lives

Video games are especially adept at this.  Games like DDR, MoCap Boxing, and WiiFIT have already done it with fitness.  Rock Band and Guitar Hero are doing it with rhythm.  And Reader Rabbit has been teaching kids to read since I was 5.  (Meanwhile, his older cousin, Bugs Bunny, has been getting into all kinds of extracurricular hijinx since 1944.)

Reader Rabbit and Bugs Bunny: Separated at Birth?

Reader Rabbit and Bugs Bunny: Separated at Birth?

Can Brands create tools that make life’s challenges seem more game-like?  Absolutely.  The Nike+iPod system added game-like progress tracking to running.  Microsoft and Fiat have followed suit with a similar effort around eco-friendly driving.  Ford’s latest entry into the hybrid market, the Fusion, utilizes an innovative dashboard that teaches motorists how to drive more efficiently — while providing game-like indicators (like a plant that grows larger the higher your calculated MPG).

[Editor's note: I love that their site is designed to be blogger friendly.  All the backgrounds are downloadable and the videos are embeddable.  Ford obviously wants some serious blogger traffic.  This is a smart way to ensure their product looks beautiful all over the web.]

In Japan, Tomy launched an innovative product called the Jinsei Ginko, basically a cross between a Tamagotchi virtual pet and a piggy bank that encourages saving.  As users insert more money, the quality of life for their digital pet person increases!  An innovative children’s product, SquidSoap, developed a game-like device that encourages children to wash their hands more diligently.  Quest 2 Learn, a NYC public school set to open this fall, has developed a curriculum for today’s digital kids using games and game-like environments.  Not edutainment, but an actual school environment that utilizes the motivational and educational power of games.

Tomi's Ginsei Ginko

Tomi's Ginsei Ginko

Even insurance companies are in on the act.  Allstate recently launched an initiative to develop game-like exercises that are proven to raise visual acuity and thus lower accidents.  They are currently looking into lowering premiums for seniors who participate in the program (once they determine the extent accidents are lowered).  Imagine that, a game that makes you healthier and saves you money.

In modern communications, games are often overlooked and dismissed as trivial entertainment or “just for kids.”  The examples above show that no matter what aspect of consumers’ lives your Brand is trying to improve, you can you use utility-based gaming to add both functional and entertainment value.