Game, Set, Match: Getting Gamification Right

Republished from The Decision Lab. The Decision Lab is a behavioural science consultancy dedicated to creating social good by helping individuals, organisations, and governments make better decisions. I am a Staff Columnist for The Decision Lab. Subscribe here for the applied behavioural insights newsletter.

Original article published here.

Funny story: I started using Duolingo, the language learning app, exactly 427 days ago. My niece had begun French classes and I wanted to learn French, so we could converse without others intercepting us. She stopped her classes at school within 3 months. Meanwhile, I am stuck because I now have a 427 day streak on Duolingo and I cannot give that up. Actually, that’s not true; I can give it up, I just don’t want to.

At the other end of the room, my partner is busy playing FIFA 2021 on his PlayStation. I hear loud celebratory music. He opens a reward box. The screen becomes dark and then, amidst applause, out walks the latest player being added to his team. The drama of all of it is jarring and yet, addictive. I find myself waiting for him to open his weekly rewards.

When I question why he wastes time playing the game, he counters me by asking why that streak on Duolingo matters to me. I argue it’s different: I am learning a new language, thanks to that streak. But, deep down, I know he is right. We are both addicted to a form of engagement. His, a game. Mine, gamification.

What is Gamification?

On any normal work day as an applied behavioral scientist, I would describe gamification as one of those annoying, trite buzzwords people throw around in meetings to appear cool and up-to-date with technological trends. It stands right up there, alongside “digital transformation,” “AI,” “machine learning,” and “the Metaverse.”

When someone mentions this G-word in res