Stop playing games: using gamification for good

4 min readMar 29, 2022

Gamification seems to be the new buzzword “du jour”, defined by Wikipedia as “the use of game design techniques and mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences“.

It can be used to promote creative ideas enabling you to develop scenarios, influence behaviours, and help people help themselves…and as an extra way of doing something without changing the way you think about it.

I wanted to challenge myself about how we could use gamification to rethink the way we co-design activities rather than just call something a game to make it sound cool — two things that I’m systematically guilty of…

On my left hand is a game that wants to “revolutionise gaming through giving“…while on my right hand, another initiative plans to use gaming to encourage students to map the journey of homeless people from the street to the home as you can see below.

Both games have good intentions and for good causes, the first you can see how it would look in your hand and the second needs more work. The key difference is that it’s the latter that’s using gaming to revolutionise how we interact with homeless people, while the former just seems to be using gaming technology.

Sometimes the best lessons we can apply from technology is not from the tools themselves but from the behaviours they spread (someone more famous than me said something similar in a more eloquent way!).

So I thought about some principles about how I might rethink how to develop games for policymaking or changing behaviours.

1. Identify the need

  • Decide who you want to reach out to, not just in terms of who will be your “players”, but how they will benefit from using it and how they will be able to play it.
  • Research to get a better understanding to see if gaming influences behaviour in both the short and long term of the people you want to reach out to.
  • Involve people who have experienced the scenario to advise you on how to design these into the game.

2. Involve people

  • Develop a framework for people to take part. You could provide players with incentives and rewards, give them higher status and the ability to customise their involvement or enable them to collect social points for online transactions.

3. Plan the steps of the game

  • Script the instructions and steps of the game and prototype it with others
  • Start with simple instructions which gradually become more complex as the game develops.
  • Focus on specific issues that the players can tackle. This will enable them to better be able to simulate the impacts of their actions, so they can more easily identify with them.

4. Attract people to play

  • Send clear messages about the real-life benefits of the game. This may also remove assumptions about gaming not being “serious.
  • Organise meetings around gaming to bring together local innovators in this area with people who are newcomers

5. Blend online and offline interaction

  • Use real-life environments as platforms for any games you’re using developed online. This will get people to have to change their behaviours to be able to complete the tasks.
  • Get people to play as if the scenario was happening rather than just role-playing. This technique, called pervasive gaming reduces the distance between seeing what you can do and how can you do something about it.

6. Evaluate the impact

  • It’s not sufficient just to assume that the techniques will work. When you want to measure the success of your game, it is critical that you can evaluate how people behave in the game you’ve developed.
  • Use background analysis to inform broad scenarios
  • Simulate real-time research to mimic real-life conditions.
  • It’s also particularly important that you enable the players themselves can monitor their performance so that can effectively learn for themselves areas they can improve.
  • Use tools that enable people to write their experiences (or even take photos)
  • Use techniques to help them chronicle their scenarios so they can provide feedback to measure success too.

7. Influence behaviours

  • Gaming can also put into perspective the wider choices that people may not have considered in their daily lives.
  • Give people tasks that focus on specific issues and ask them to make real changes both within and outside of the game
  • Include options in the game where they can help and compete against each other.
  • Develop the game in different stages which unfold gradually, run instantly and interactively and enable people to complete a set of actions for the game.
  • Choose a crisis at the start of the game and map out what types of groups they want to simulate
  • Work out how the game can make an emotional connection between the player and the environment they are confronted with.

What other tips would you recommend when thinking about how gaming techniques and principles could be used elsewhere?




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese