• Jed Johnson

Swiping Right: The Power of Gamification or How to Be a Better Employee and Person through Technolog

Gamification is one of the biggest trends we at Great Lakes GrowthWorks have seen in the past few years. Perhaps the most relevant and far-reaching example of gamification in our society is Tinder, the dating app that has millions of people swiping right or left. Though many aspects of Tinder are gamified, the design of swiping right to approve and left to signal disapproval has made its way into common parlance and is a widespread practice. People can even swipe on political candidates, issues, jobs, and just about everything else because of Tinder’s success in gamifying the selection of a choice. Today I’ll take you through how gamification is helping people acquire and assess skills, increase efficiency and efficacy, stay organized, and unleash innovation.

Acquire and Assess Skills

Education is evolving to be more engaging, personalized, and above all more effective by implementing gamification. What is more, many apps and websites that have gamified learning are completely free for anyone to use. Take Duolingo for example, a language learning app and website which I first discovered in 2013 to learn Portuguese before spending a summer in Brazil. Since then it has exploded in popularity and now boasts 120 million users across six continents, studying over 20 languages. Many elements of Duolingo encourage users to make steady progress, from “streaks” achieved from studying each day to notifications that users have achieved greater fluency in their language of study. All of these learning strategies make completing Duolingo activities fun and very addictive (I personally can’t seem to stop, since I’ve now studied five languages on this app). Another hit language learning app, Memrise, hones in on developing users’ vocabulary in a foreign language, while LiveMocha, owned by Rosetta Stone, specialized on speaking ability and pronunciation. With the plethora of language learning apps available for little to no cost, learners and use and combine different apps and websites specifically for their learning style.

Anyone who has been job-hunting or has recently started a new job is all too familiar with the plethora of online assessments, which can be mind-numbingly tedious. One company that has gamified online workplace assessments is Pymetrics, where users complete “brain games” that measure traits like detail-orientation. Companies can review users’ mental makeup as measured by Pymetrics and contact people that match the workplace profile they’re looking for. Employers benefit from Pymetrics because it actually measures an employee’s skill, instead of trusting that a resume accurately reflects their skills, and users benefit because the brain games that measure them are fun and engaging. What’s more, the female-led start up claims it can combat bias in hiring.

Like Pymetrics, Scoutible is a smartphone app and online community that will let users play games which assess their skills and abilities in order to be connected with employers. However, Scoutible is set to be a more sophisticated platform than Pymetrics, and when released will measure qualities like risk-taking, mental processing speed, and emotional intelligence through games like surviving on an island or jumping on rocks in lava. With funding from Mark Cuban and other angel investors, it will be exciting to see how one can compete with other job applicants for even the most prestigious employers simply by playing videogames.

Increase Efficiency and Efficacy

Sometimes gamification can have the opposite of the intended effect when exercising. Studies have shown that when runners use devices like FitBit to track their metrics that they actually get less exercise in the long run. Story Running by Runtastic remedies this by making running itself more enjoyable by providing interactive storylines that runners listen to during their workout. Being swept up in a story about an alien invasion or medieval battle makes checking your calorie-counter all the less appealing, and the arc of each available story is meant to match up to an effective workout, with intelligently spaced slow-downs and warm ups. Or if you’re trying to get in the Halloween spirit, check out Zombies, Run!

One controversial example of gamification to increase efficiency is Waze, the navigation app that has gotten me to the airport on time on more occasions than I can count. Waze’s adorable and engaging graphics warn drivers about road obstructions, traffic jams, and even the location of police officers or speed traps. Users gain points by reporting if there’s an accident, heavy traffic, or anything else that could influence other drivers getting places on time. Though Waze is extremely effective in finding the fastest route in real-time, it has been criticized for being gamified to the point of being distracting for drivers (it’s fantastic though for when you wind up in the navigator’s seat!).


We all have a few items on our to-do lists that we never seem to get around to. Whether it’s finding the time to work out or complete chores, we want to complete things, but if no one else is affected by us neglecting a task, we tend to put it off. Today, there are a host of platforms available that helps you complete to-do lists and chores that rewards users for successful completion. ToDoist is a major upgrade to the traditional to-do list because you’re rewarded with points and level increases with every to-do you accomplish. Users accrue or lose “karma” according to how well they’ve been doing on their lists; appealing graphics, reminders, and an easy interface all work to encourage people to gain more karma and get things done. Having an organized life, and being rewarded for it, can be an important component to getting even more things accomplished at the workplace and at home.

ChoreWars, launched in 2007 and still relevant today, was one of the earliest examples of gamification that introduced competition with others. ChoreWars is a unique blend between completing tasks in the real world in order to get rewards in a virtual world similar to World of Warcraft. Family members or roommates claim and perform different household chores to enable their virtual characters to find treasure and rewards. Unlike ToDoist, which encourages organization on a personal level, ChoreWars allows for organization and competition among groups of people, which is more similar to the challenges that face workplaces today.


From a gamification standpoint, it’s clear that what constitutes “work” for some is considered “play” for others. A fascinating example of this is the game FoldIt, which has players gain points by rearranging protein structures in different ways. The highest scoring structures that players develop are tested by researchers at the University of Washington and have led to major scientific breakthroughs. In fact, FoldIt players deciphered the structure of an AIDS-causing virus, something that had evaded researchers for 15 years, in a mere 10 days. This idea about play sparking scientific discovery or unearthing talent in an indirect way was also used by Alan Turing, the inventor of the computer, in recruiting people to work for him at Bletchley Park to break Nazi codes. Turing screened applicants by having them complete a crossword puzzle in under 12 minutes. Though crossword puzzles wouldn’t be used to hire computer programmers today, Turing realized that the skills used to complete a crossword – pattern recognition, broad intelligence, and speed of mental processing – would be the same ones that would make an expert code-breaker. Both FoldIt and Turing’s crossword emphasize the importance of reframing a problem into a game in order to unleash innovative discoveries. What makes FoldIt and Pymetrics so innovative is that of the tasks these applications accomplish, namely scientific research and job recruitment, are done for free by users simply because they don’t consider these platforms as performing work. Thus, what people once paid a great deal of money for can be provided for little to no cost by gamifying the process.

Though gamification’s impact may seem limited to technology-based applications, we can glean some important insights for any workplace. Gamification is only going to grow in size and scope as employees come to expect both engaging forms of collaboration and being rewarded for successful competition and productivity. In turn, employees can more quickly gain more skills through gamified training modules or increase innovation by gamifying big problems that seem daunting when faced head on. As our work lives and personal lives become even more intertwined, any approach we can take to make our goals and tasks more effective and fun through gamification will be a true game-changer in the years to come.