The gamification of society: time to grow up?

Saturday 18 October, 17.30 until 18.45, Frobisher Auditorium 2, Barbican Technological Innovation

Video games are growing up: the average age of a gamer is now over 30 in the US and UK. Now, a new breed of socially conscious games developers is keen to prove that gaming could be good for society. ‘Gamification’ – the use of gaming techniques in real-world settings – has become a major force in recent years, first in marketing but increasingly in other areas, too. Whether it’s inspiring reluctant runners by getting them to share their progress with friends online with the Nike+ app or helping AIDS researchers solve long-running problems in cell classification by turning the problem into a crowd-sourced game, games are increasingly seen as a revolutionary and disruptive tool for social interaction. Some charities have offered the opportunity to ‘play’ as a homeless person or African farmer to better educate young people about the problems that people in need face.

Yet some speculate that gamification could have a bigger role to play than simply improving interactions with users. Business consultants have increasingly begun to explore how gaming systems could help boost productivity by motivating workers to view their jobs more as an extension of leisure time (‘play’). Some see a similar use for games in education, engaging students through the familiar tropes of gaming and social media rather than the more ‘passive’ experience of classroom learning.

Others are more suspicious of using techniques pioneered in the marketing and entertainment industries as a method of building serious engagement in other parts of life. There are ethical concerns, too, about the willingness to blur the boundaries between work and leisure, as suggested by the negative reactions to the news that Facebook has allowed academic researchers to manipulate users’ news feeds to monitor their emotional reactions.

Is gamification just the latest marketing gimmick, or can it offer genuine benefits to how we work and interact with each other? What are the ethical and practical challenges posed by implementing game mechanics to non-game scenarios in the workplace or classroom? Are such methods simply a fun way of engaging a generation raised on video games, or is there a risk that such approaches trivialise important and difficult issues? Does all play and no work make Jack a more superficial boy?


Dr Shirley Dent
communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor,; author, Radical Blake

Tor Gisvold
director, digital, PwC; former consultant, Riot Games (League of Legends)

Andrew Orlowski
executive editor, Register; assistant producer, All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace

Kam Star
chief play officer, PlayGen; founder, Digital Shoreditch

Martyn Perks
digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

Produced by
David Bowden associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer
Martyn Perks digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation
Recommended readings
Gamification is taking over our lives, and it all came from video games

With so many people playing video games, it's no wonder that psychologists, policy makers and businesses have taken an interest in the idea of rewarding people for doing well

Martyn Perks, Independent, 10 October 2014

Does job success depend on data rather than your CV?

The bald truth is that most companies are pretty bad at recruitment.

Matthew Wall, BBC, 2 October 2014

6 Games That Will Give You a New Perspective

Video games offer their players a form of escape — you can explore new worlds, achieve superhuman feats, and totally transcend the laws of space and time.

Matt Petronzio, Mashable, 27 September 2014

Insight and analysis for IT leaders RSS linkedin facebook twitter Google Plus

he business benefits beyond the fun of gamified recruitment - See more at:

Ben Rossi, Information Age, 25 September 2014

Ed Vaizey announces scheme to help teens get jobs in gaming

The Next Gen Skills Academy will give 16- to 18-year-olds a new route into the games, animation and VFX industries at Sony, Ubisoft and Pinewood Studios

Steve Boxer, Guardian, 25 September 2014

follow the Academy of Ideas


Keep up to date with Academy of Ideas news and events by joining our mailing list.