Published in the Los Angeles Times
Michael Pusateri is a 43-year-old senior vice president at the Disney- ABC Television Group, but he still doesn't eat his vegetables. So in October he joined Health Month, an online game that allows him to compete against 16,000 other users in striving toward his goals — which include cycling 80 miles a week and going on a weekly date with his wife.
When he made progress, he earned life points and raised his ranking. When he failed, he lost points but could ask other players to take pity and "heal" him by giving him virtual "fruit." The game prepared him for his first triathlon. "My wife has been after me for years to eat more fruit and vegetables and bring my lunch to work, and it was, 'Next week, I'll do it next week,'" says Pusateri, an avid video game player and father of two. "Just because it was on this dumb website I actually did it."
Companies such as Health Month have begun to harness people's innate craving for competition to turn the world into one giant virtual summer camp. Now that 97% of teens and more than half of adults play video games, companies have caught on to the medium's addictive powers. Websites and apps are using virtual points, levels, leader boards, badges and challenges to motivate people to stay healthy, watch television or read a newspaper. "Games are starting to creep into every aspect of our day," says Jesse Schell, a game designer who teaches at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center.
In the tech world, gamification is now a full-blown movement, and the first Gamification Summit will take place in San Francisco in January, organized by Gabe Zichermann, author of "Game-Based Marketing." But while some believe this phenomenon is a motivation machine that will dominate lives in coming years, others think it's a manipulative fad that does not acknowledge how humans' brains really work.