In my day job, one of the hot topics currently bubbling merrily away is "gamification" (and so help me God, if autocorrect switches that back to "ramification" one more time I'm putting a boot through my Macintosh). This notion can be briefly summed up as "turn everything into a game and it becomes more interesting to do". Now, I'm not here to debate its merits one way or the other. What I can say, however, is that the concept has generated innumerable conference talks and blog posts, not to mention all sorts of Facebook content, wildly convoluted consumer loyalty programs generated by people who don't actually understand games, and rants saying mean things about Reality is Broken author Jane McGonigal.
But if you really want to see gamification in action, you just need to look at the NFL combine. What is basically a glorified weight room session has been thoroughly, magnificently gamified.
Let's face it: there's damn little more boring than watching other dudes work out. But turn it into the Combine, start racking up the scores on how many presses at what weight a guy did, comparing that to other prospects, and invent a leveling system out of Mel Kiper's Big Board - hey, you did twenty reps at 325, you're now a potential FOURTH rounder, up from fifth - and suddenly it's a whopping, sweaty ball of gamified excitement. The rewards, like game rewards, are ephemeral - there's nothing concrete to Mel Kiper suddenly declaring you a third rounder instead of a sixth rounder rounder, but it feels like something, just like getting a virtual badge that serves as bragging rights with folks you've never met1. And the guys doing it buy it, and ESPN buys it, and most of all, we buy it.
Because otherwise, it's just a bunch of guys working out in a really big building in Indiana, and who wants to watch that.
1And I say this as someone who's now rolled over his badge collection twice on Jetpack Joyride.