Have you ever had to complete a task that you did not find intrinsically inspiring? Did you find ways of making it more fun, giving yourself the dopamine spikes you needed to finish it and enjoy yourself a bit in the process? If so, you’ve stumbled upon the art and science of gamification.

The study of how to make work fun dates back to the sociologists and management theorists in the mid-20th Century. Gamification as we know it took off in the 2010s, as video games became a dominant cultural force, game designer Jane McGonical released her groundbreaking book Reality Is Broken, and “gamification” became a buzzword for experience designers in Silicon Valley. Now, gamification has become a noticeable influence on product design and business processes.

You can use the basic principles of gamification to make your own work more rewarding, and to help your team work together more effectively. Here are a few core ideas to start with.


We each have an innate competitive instinct, a drive to thrive and survive. Well-designed games help us direct this energy toward a positive purpose, leveraging our competitive tendencies to create more wealth and happiness for the group.


At the same time, we get more done and experience more satisfaction when we are aware of the cooperative social dynamics that sustain us. The best games build camaraderie, encourage teamwork, and allow us to take pride in our role in a larger system. In his classic book Gamification By Design, author Gabe Zichermann observes that games can help us more effectively model the future by better understanding relationships between interdependent variables. In this spirit, McGonigal has devised games in which players find solutions for climate change and other human rights challenges.

Progress and Leveling Up

As UX designers know, we are often more productive when we quantify our achievements and see the effects of our progress. As we build new skills, our goals and challenges, too, should evolve over time.


When players have attained certain levels of mastery, great games should give them ways in which to “color outside the lines,” to go outside the prescribed framework of the game and make their own rules. This catalyzes fluid intelligence and helps us unlock our potential to apply our problem-solving skills at more and more challenging levels of abstraction.

Changing the Game, For the Better

Gamification is not without some controversy. Critic Ian Bogost points to the creation of “exploitationware” and warns against attempting to gamify and quantify work in lieu of improving workplace culture and society holistically.

To use gamification as a tool for team-building, make sure your team is engaged with the right kinds of games and activities, to bring out the best ideas and mission tactics that undergird them. “To improve workers’ satisfaction through games,” writes Ben Mauk in The New Yorker, “you need their consent.”

At Artisan Creative, we’re on the front lines of the movement to create the future of work. Contact Artisan today and discover how you can make your career, your business, and your life more successful, more satisfying, and more fun.

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