Gamification of Life

Not everything is serious.

Over the last few years I have read about and heard people talk about the gameification of life.  There is part of me that wants to say the whole idea was silly.  Who needs their real life to be turned into a video game where you are accumulating points and badges.  We live life to live life.  Earning virtual points isn’t going to change behavior.  Or is it?  I have been following work happening at places like the The Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford that looks at how interaction with technology can change people’s thinking or behavior.  In the last few months I have seen in a small way how this can work out in my own life.

My family owns two cars.  A Prius and a Passat.  If you would have asked me a few months ago, I would have said that Passat is more fun to drive: it has better acceleration, better handling, more comfortable seats.   When I drive the Passat, I tend to push it a little bit.  Take the turns tight, accelerate hard when it’s safe, push to make lights when I am sure I can make it through before it turns red.  I tend to drive in a mildly aggressive manner. My attitudes reflect my driving style.  I find that I am a bit impatient, wanting to go quickly, annoyed with drivers that are going more slowly than they need or seem indecisive.

Prius has it’s own kind of fun.  Trying to get the best MPG score I can.  Now my Passat records mpg numbers as well, both average, and instantaneous… but these numbers don’t really help you maximize your milage.  The Prius though, will shown your accumulated score (mpg since the trip was resent – I do it after each fill up), it has a bar graph of current mpg, charge in the battery, and how much energy you are putting into (or taking out) of the drive system with a line indicating where the car will likely switch from running on battery to starting the gas engine and a second line indicating when you are switching from running the engine efficiently (eco) to burning fuel (full power). As I started to drive the Prius I noticed that I was trying maximize my mph score. I would accelerate more slowly.  I was paying more aware of how traffic was flowing to minimize the amount of braking I had to do, and worked to keep the braking in the range that the regenerative system would capture energy.  I found myself adjusting my speed on the road to maximize milage.  Rather than pushing to squeak through a light before it changed, I found myself considering fuel economy introduced by the light, that is, could I make it through the light on eco which would result in a better score than having to come to a complete stop.  I have also noticed that I am a bit more calm and patient, because “the game” rewards that.  Wow, it seems like both my behavior and attitude were being effected by having a score.  Of course, I told myself it was just about being economical and being a good stewart.  This is why I was driving the Prius rather than the Passat.

Well… maybe not. One week I noticed my score was down to 40.2mpg, lower than my normal 45-48mpg score.  As the score stayed low and I watched the game time running out (fuel meter was approaching the half way mark) I knew that I needed to do something, or the score would be low when the game ended (next fill up). I found myself considering taking an unnecessary trip on the freeway so I could improve my score.  Oh my, I was caring more about the score than using resources wisely. I didn’t take the unnecessarily trip, but I was tempted to.  A note to designers: make sure you are instrumenting that right things, or you might discover you are encouraging the wrong behaviors.

I now find myself wondering, am I driving the Prius because it is more economical, or because it’s fun and I am trying to get good scores?  Or maybe it just because it’s a nicer car with a sun roof and a plug for my iPhone. Every now and again I will express joy or sorrow at my score.  Helen laughs at me and says that she is going to get me a driving video game… but why would I need one?  I use one every day, and it gets me (and her) the places we need to go.  My just wish Toyota had the Prius record the top 10 scores like a good video game.  Even better, top score with any Prius’ in the neighborhood.  There would be plenty of players since Prius in our neighborhood are as common as pickup trucks in Texas.  My top score for a full tank of gas is 53.5mpg.  What’s yours?  🙂

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