Charlotte Beckett: Playing with purpose

Charities have nothing to lose from trialling gaming techniques on top of their existing fundraising strategies, writes our columnist

Charlotte Beckett
Charlotte Beckett

On the face of it, Pokémon Go is a simple (and possibly foolish) app through which people chase down cartoon monsters.

Whether as individuals or virtual teams, we are hitting the streets and transforming our everyday environment into an irresistible game.

With millions of players, continual conversations on social media, and reams of column inches dedicated to it (and the stupid things people have done playing it), this is been the summer of Pokémon Go.

Among the ink spilled, there have been the inevitable "what we can learn" articles, which tend to follow a "how to" course similar to the one we followed when discussing all the previous game sensations.

Let’s instead consider the "why to" more closely. In 2010, Gabe Zicherman defined gamification as "the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems".

More simply, applying the basic elements that make games fun and engaging to things that aren’t typically fun or engaging. While the phrase may be new, the concept isn’t: play is a foundation of human society.

Gamification is based on the fundamental values of reward, social status, self-expression, achievement, completion. Game play, according to Jesse Schell, will invade our everyday life in order to steer our interaction with services towards more engaging experiences.

From the simple gaming mechanics of FitBit to the full blown narratives of the likes of Zombies, Run! the health industry is embracing play to improve people’s habits. 

So what’s the relevance to us as fundraisers? 

Those classic gaming mechanics of badges, leaderboards, teams are becoming common currency for events — Movember and Dryathlon are successful examples.

But games are more than that. When we play, we use our psychological strengths such as courage, determination, creativity, optimism. We’re open to trying new strategies. We work with other people to get results from increasingly difficult challenges.

These are all strengths we should be tapping into in the real world. As organisations we should be questioning the way we do things.

Instead of a passive direct debit, can we give supporters a more active role through lending, crowdfunding or shared investments? How can we tap into the collective ideas and experience of our supporters — what’s our version of Cancer Research UK’s Citizen Science

And what about the micro moments? How can we make even form-filling and automatic emails more purposeful, more fun?

From YunoJuno’s use of humour when you hit "inbox zero" to Nwplyng’s exclusive tracks accessed the more you share an artist’s music, there’s plenty of inspiration in gaming nudges that we can bring into fundraising. 

Does gamification work? Research by Kovisto and Hamari in 2014 found that it does, but with three caveats: the context it was being used, who was playing, and the novelty effect.

The jury appears to still be out. However, considering that play is a basic human trait, what have we got to lose by testing a few game mechanics among our existing fundraising strategies?   

Play with purpose motivates us to continue, drives our fun. Dan Ariely, in an experiment with Lego found that those who kept making models from new bricks, leaving each one intact, continued with the task longer than those who dismantled their models each time and re-used the same bricks.

If what we do has no purpose, we stop doing it (pretty quickly). How can we bring purpose — and pleasure — to even the smallest of tasks in people’s journey from donation to ongoing support? 

Charlotte Beckett is a freelance digital strategist and consumer behaviour specialist

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