Gamification is one of those big words constantly being thrown around in the social media space. It’s also a trend, like many other trends in social media, which companies are trying to use as the proverbial silver bullet to gain traffic and conversions. While gamification is by no means a quick fix to all problems social, once you understand the science behind it, you see why it works.

Gabe Zichermann, chair of the Gamification Summit and Workshops, led a discussion during Social Media Week on this hot button subject and began by making sure the definition was clear:

gamification is the process of using game thinking & mechanics to engage users and to solve problems.

One of the reasons gamification works is because games create a system of constraint. When you set limits, people need to use their own imagination and creativity to reach a goal. People are born with the desire to create and games help to get those creative juices flowing. Additionally, games are intrinsically social and that fact adds to the reasoning behind why it works so well in this case.

Scientifically speaking, gamification works off of fluid intelligence (gF): the human ability to, given a situation you’ve never been in before, solve a problem. Numerous tests have shown that gF helps individuals learn to multitask and learning to multitask helps increase your grey matter. Moreover, people are “wired” to gather pleasure from achievement. In games, the challenge/achievement loop takes place many, many times. This pleasure will also lead people to tell others about their wonderful “game” experience—once again accomplishing a social interaction.

The science behind gamification also explains the division between those who understand this concept & those who are still slow to adopt the theory of using games, when applicable, online. The bifurcation of which we are speaking is essentially generational. Boomers, Gen X-ers & some Gen Y-ers were brought up on a learning system based on crystallized intelligence—the ability to use your memory in solving problems you already know. Crystallized intelligence limits creativity thus limiting the aforementioned challenge/achievement pleasure loop that games provide. The one thing to remember is that, although there may be some generational pushback, gamification techniques still work across all generations. Think about it, who doesn’t like to play a game?

And here’s the perfect example.

When I arrived at the Bloomberg building, I went to the desk to get my badge for the day and was given the directions to get to the room where the panel was being held. I was prompted to take the green elevator to the sixth floor, go through the atrium to the next elevator bank, take one of those elevators to 28, perform seven barrel rolls under razor wire while encountering enemy fire and go down the stairs to the 27th floor where I would be greeted by coffee, tea, orange juice and various breakfast snacks before the beginning of the panel. OK, so I may have added the barrel rolls, razor wire and enemy fire, but the point is a link (Legend of Zelda pun fully intended) as made between the experience of getting to the conference room and a system of gaming and achievement. The social aspect of this was expressed through the conversations before and after the discussion as well as online. Games and social interactions work.

Plus, I still say Gabe set up hat whole series of entry to the room so when you ask him, and he says he didn’t, feel free to accept his humility.

Written by Guest Post