The term ‘gamification’, though an unfamiliar word to the general public, is a growing trend across the world. Gamification means to apply elements of game-playing such as competitions and score-keeping in a non-game situation. Although the term did not become recognised until 2010, employment of game mechanics in contests dates back to as early as 1896.

So how can gamification innovate government organisations and what are the benefits?

Gamification may be used as a tool to improve the participation and motivation of the public in carrying out important tasks and activities that are generally not too attractive. Its application is relevant to all areas of government business and can be used in various contexts, including education, for example, safety awareness and learning how to use computer systems.

The technological development in general and the development in the video games technology are causing a noticeable gap across two generations. A generation that grew up with technology, and a generation that grew up before the advent of technology. With different preferences in the way each learn, the way people learn has been challenged. As a result, interactive learning is preferred and this is why gamification works for both generations.

By applying game-design principles to content and the functionality of smartphone applications and social media channels, it is possible for government organisations to improve their relationship with citizens by making civic engagement both fun and fulfilling.

Incorporating game mechanics into traditional government-citizen activities such as reporting issues or registering a business is an innovative way to enhance and support the traditional methods, employed for learning and awareness. It is also an interesting and responsive way to serve the community.

Leading by example

The city of Las Vegas is a digital-first city that employs a mix of community engagement platforms and tools ranging from mobile apps to all popular social media channels to its own television station. Local government examples include ‘Community PlanIt’ which turns a survey into an online game with social comment sharing that rewards users by funding causes they care about.

Another initiative uses the virtual social simulator game Second Life to put residents into skins of video game characters to experience a proposed park and provide feedback. A game that mimics a stock market called Idea Street allows public employees to introduce productivity and savings ideas and have others trade stock on those ideas, with a public leader board conveying status.

Mixing online civic engagement platforms with crowdsourcing is a new area of interest to the city. Platforms that seek to harness the combined intelligence of public to solve social problems (“collective will”) are spreading. These platforms offer features such as discussion boards and ways to contact other users.

According to Gartner’s 2015 ‘Hype Cycle’ for Digital Government, ‘Gamification in Government’ is on the rise, and is expected to be adopted by governments in the mainstream within 5-10 years — which highlights that the City of Las Vegas is an early adopter of this technology innovation. The ‘Hype Cycle’ is a graphical presentation representing the maturity, adoption and social application of specific technologies.

Game designers often dislike the term ‘gamification’. And why is this? This is because it has become synonymous with the practice of using game mechanics to manipulate behaviour. Great designers do not focus on game mechanics upfront; rather they design compelling experiences that drive sustained engagement whether or not that experience feels like a game. Government organisations have a unique opportunity to deliver better services to citizens and to engage their loyalty at every single touch point from requesting a service to transacting a payment.

Regional scenario

Gamification helps government organisations connect and communicate with its citizens in a more effective and innovative way. With continued technological advancements, gamification ensures that the public are willing to be involved in community issues and are responsive because technology enables them to do more without impacting on their daily lives. The result is a more voluntary, symmetrical relationship between governmental departments and the public where worthwhile messages can spread very quickly, in particular through social media.

The GCC is quickly becoming one of the major adopters of gamification in government. Dubai Police are an excellent example of gamification-application in the region. They’ve employed cutting-edge video game technologies to develop games supporting electronic awareness. Dubai Police have made this relevant to their demographic by incorporating a glocalised style of communication while strengthening users’ national identity and loyalty to the UAE.

By adopting gamification in the GCC, government organisations can connect with new audiences, form communities of practice, and deliver services and messages in new innovative ways.

Governments around the world are starting to apply game mechanics to mundane tasks in an attempt to engage both citizens and government employees. The result: Unprecedented engagement levels across the board. The city of Las Vegas has applied some of the gaming principles in its governance and today we will hear why gamification is the way forward for government organisations.

The writer is the Information Technologies Business Partner for the City of Las Vegas, US.