Gaming For Good: The Gamification of Social Change

One of the hottest trends of 2010 was “gamification.” Gamification is the practice of adding game mechanics such as points, badges, levels, leaderboards, and rewards to everyday activities.

Gaming is a tremendously popular hobby among both sexes and nearly all age groups. It’s also a tremendously time consuming hobby. In 2003, people spent a total of nine billion hours playing computer Solitaire alone. It took only seven million human hours to build the Empire State Building in New York. Marketers have been trying for years to snatch some of the billions upon billions of hours spent gaming every year through methods such as in game advertising and product placement, but increasingly, they are making marketing efforts themselves into a game.

One of the fastest growing social networks of 2010 was Foursquare, a social gaming smart phone app that allows users to “check in” to their favorite restaurants, bars, and even laundromats, unlocking badges, competing for the position of “Mayor” at a particular location, and creating scavenger hunt-style “To Do” lists for their friends and fellow users in the process. Savvy businesses quickly jumped on the bandwagon, offering discounts and other rewards for customers who unlocked certain badges, or attained the position of mayor.

Marketers aren’t the only ones sitting up and taking notice. Games such as Health Month, Chorewars, and Epic Win tackle behavior modification and goal achievement with gaming elements and social networking, and a growing number of green businesses, social enterprises, and non-profit organizations are now seeking to harness the power of gamification for social change. The addictive power of gaming – and the rewards, recognition, and encouragement it can provide – can be used to promote positive social change in an almost unlimited variety of ways.

Here are five businesses and organizations trying to change the world through gamification:


CauseWorld is a Foursquare-like geolocation app that allows users to check in to favorite businesses. Instead of receiving badges and discounts, however, users receive “karma” (no purchase necessary!) from CauseWorld’s sponsors, which can then be used to support the cause of their choice. Current causes include the American Red Cross, ACCION USA, the Jane Goodall Institute, Room To Read, and the Waterkeepers Alliance.

Practically Green

Practically Green is often billed as the Foursquare of green living, but instead of checking in to different locations, you start with a quick, simple quiz designed to gauge how green you are. It then offers a number of simple, practical suggestions to help you reduce your environmental impact even more. The site offers awards and badges, as well as social aspects such as user reviews of each action.

Free Rice

Free Rice combines an educational game with hunger relief. The game offers quizzes on a number of different subjects, including English vocabulary, mathematics, and geography. For each question you answer correctly, 10 grains of rice are donated to the UN World Food Programme. Though it is possible to play without registering, many frequent users register in order to keep better track of their totals and to receive the chance to appear on the game’s leaderboards for individuals and groups.


Many hybrid car owners have found that the constant feedback from display screens showing their gasoline consumption has encouraged them to change their driving habits to reduce gasoline consumption even further. Now Nissan is taking things a step further with the display screen for its new Nissan Leaf electric car. The Leaf uses a telemetrics system called CARWINGS to calculate your mileage per kWh and compare it with other drivers in your region and around the world. The feature has been available in Japan for several years and has earned environmental awards there. Drivers achieving the best mileage can earn various achievements and rankings; however, it’s not clear if Nissan plans to implement a rewards system.


OPOWER is a smart grid software firm that has incorporated advanced customer engagement technology into its products. It produces reports for utility customers that compares monthly household energy consumption not only to the previous month and the same month the year before, but also to other households in the neighborhood, including both average and most efficient neighbors. Utilities say that customers receiving the reports consistently consume less energy than those that don’t thanks to the competition aspect.

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  1. It appears gamefication is now firmly entrenched in social media and internet applications. The human dynamics work and thus like anything, the most efficient solution will eventually win out.

    Even small iPhone apps include gamefication functionality because it is what motivates most humans to act. This action is what application designers desire.

    So for better or worse, we’re stuck with it for now.

  2. Hi, Great article, it really hits home and supports our cause. We’re based in the UK and are hoping to encourage social change through the use of gamification. this will manifest itself by using game mechanics to help influence users into taking correct choices in their lives. We’d love to speak to like minded people who are into social change on our page

  3. Ankit Garg says:

    Gamification is good for people, but up to a certain extent. After all, in the real world, it does not work. So, one must try to limit its use, and try to be independent and less influenced by it.

  4. Emma says:

    Even at their core, social networks rely on a certain level of gamification, i.e building numbers of ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ to increase the size of their network.


  1. […] is the second in a two part Gaming For Good series. Last week, we discussed the concept of “gamefication – adding game mechanics such as points, levels, badges, leader boards, and rewards to […]

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