Let’s be honest — change is hard.

Finding the motivation to do things differently and build new habits is tricky. When the change you want to make is for our world, that task is amplified. I know how hard it is to inspire people to join your cause. I also know that technology is a powerful tool for motivating action.

Gamification is one way to make motivation far simpler. Using game mechanics, you can create websites and apps that will engage people in your cause.

This article will:

  • Define social impact and gamification
  • Explain the value-action gap
  • Give 4 examples of gamification
  • Give 4 examples of gamified social impact apps

Let’s define social impact

What is social impact? To put it simply, social impact is any program or initiative which has a positive effect on society. It’s about making the world a better place. For a social impact initiative to be successful, the change it creates should be measurable. One of the benefits of games for social impact is their capacity for measuring success.

What is gamification?

Gamification is the process of adding game mechanics to non-game environments. It can be used in education, marketing, fitness, the corporate workplace and almost anywhere else you can think of. Its purposes are to engage, motivate and build loyalty.

Need to know more? I give a complete definition in my previous blog: Gamification: What Is It and How Do We Use It?.

Let’s talk about the value-action gap

The value-action gap is the space between learning about an important issue and deciding to do something about that issue. Many people believe that once the public knows about an issue, they will care enough to change their behaviour. Unfortunately, this is not always true.

Education helps to build intrinsic motivation — meaning people will happily continue a new behaviour once they know it is for a good cause. But, intrinsic motivation does not encourage them to begin a new behaviour. That requires extrinsic motivation — something that gamification is exceptionally good at creating. By offering rewards and achievements, gamification gives people a reason to begin new behaviours.

As a game designer building social impact games, I’m driven to close the value-action gap. My team and I work hard on games and apps that transform opinions, increase knowledge and motivate action.

4 examples of gamification that help with motivation

There are many more than four gamification techniques, but for the purposes of this article, I’ve selected some to give you a small taste.

1. Points

Points come in two main forms. First, there are experiential points. Earning these is a source of pride or achievement and proves your expertise. Second, there are redeemable points. These usually equate to real-world rewards. Both types of points act as a reward system for interacting with an app or gamified experience. They make you want to come back for more.

2. Progress tracking and performance graphs

Progress tracking and performance graphs work similarly to leader boards (another popular gamification technique). Unlike leader boards, they are designed for self-reflection. They create a sense of self-competition; users can see their progress and strive to beat their personal best.

3. Avatars

Avatars also come in two forms. First, there are cute, emotive characters who cheer you on or appear sad when you fail. Second, there are personalised avatars where you build a version of yourself. Both of these are designed to increase engagement and immerse you further in the gamified experience.

4. Teams

Team features in gamified apps work to foster both competition and collaboration. Users can compete with other teams while simultaneously collaborating with their own team members. This combination of positive and negative motivators is considered highly effective for learning.

Read my other article on 6 Gamification Trends Transforming Training in 2020 and Beyond.

4 apps using gamification for social impact

In Their Shoes by Takeda

In Their Shoes is an app designed by Chaos Theory and Grapple Gun Games for Takeda, to build empathy for IBD sufferers. It sends a series of intrusive, real-world challenges to simulate the symptoms of IBD over a 2-day period. It includes an avatar building feature to increase the personalisation of the experience. Participants have described it as an “intense”, “humbling” and “eye-opening” experience. The app has been translated into 10 languages and inspired the global hashtag #FlyWithIBD, raising awareness for the disease around the world.

Forest by ShaoKan Pi

Forest is a gamified productivity app that encourages users to stay focused. When users want to avoid distractions, they plant a tree and set a timer in the app. The longer they stay focused (i.e. away from their phone) the bigger the tree grows. Breaking their focus kills the tree. The more times you are successfully focused, the bigger your forest grows. In this way, trees work like points to track progress and give users a sense of achievement. There is also a team option with family or friends for a communal focus challenge.

Charity Miles by Charity Miles

Charity Miles is a fitness app that raises money for a range of charities on behalf of users for every mile of exercise. Users can increase their donations with pledges from friends, family and employers. They can also build teams to increase the social aspects of the app. The app uses streaks to push users to return every day, plus progress tracking and performance graphs to increase the sense of self-competition.

Elanation by Elanation

Elanation is a gamified sports app for kids Chaos Theory helped develop, which pairs with a wearable watch to track performance and exercise. Players can earn experience points which help them reach new levels and unlock new content. These gamified systems enhance the player experience and motivate the kids to return and play again.

Talk to the gamification experts at Chaos Theory

The pursuit of a better world is something to be admired. In fact, it’s one of the core missions at Chaos Theory. We want to improve the quality of life and work toward a sustainable future through the magic of play. Together, you and I can use gamification to create real change for your social cause.

Not sure how to begin? Book a free 30-minute brainstorm with me where we will formulate a strategy to use games and gamification for your needs.