Applying Gamification to Wellness

Computer and video gaming is a massive industry, consuming millions of hours of people’s time every year. When you step back and watch, you find the activities in these games are often repetitive, monotonous, frustrating and sometimes painful. Find 50 widgets. Kill 100 critters. Collect 1,000 coins. It’s a wonder that gamers invest so much time into the gaming grind.

There are other activities we’d like to have people do that can feel a lot like the tedious parts of these games. Repetitive. Monotonous. Sounds like a treadmill. Frustrating. Painful. Reminiscent of the routine diabetics go through to check their blood sugar.

Wellness activities look and feel a lot like those gaming activities. So why is wellness so hard when games are so incredibly addictive?

Enter the new field of gamification – a new twist on behavioral economics using video games to test how millions of consumers can be motivated to perform behaviors they otherwise wouldn’t do. It’s exactly what we need to encourage health consumers to make better decisions – eat better, exercise, take their medications and manage chronic conditions before they get out of control.

Let’s look at how some gamification concepts might be implemented in wellness programs, particularly if the programs have a strong online component:

  • Recognition – It’s great to set goals for wellness programs as long as they don’t feel overwhelming and unachievable. Adding consistent, manageable goals that encourage recognition and reward are motivating. Goals such as “lose 75 pounds” or “keep your blood pressure under 120/80” may be what you’re shooting for, but start with “set up your profile,” “perform 30 minutes of activity every day for a week,” or “lose your first five pounds.”
  • Metrics – Tracking matters. Providing participants with the ability to see how they’re performing toward their goal can be very effective. Setting daily step targets or using a pedometer help people get active. Tracking everything they eat against a daily limit, like in the Weight Watchers® program, help people manage calories. And monitors like the BodyBugg help people measure the difference between what they’re burning and what they eat.
  • Rewards – Rewards also help. Cash can work, but that gets expensive. Consider recognition in the form of an honorific (think Foursquare badges or “my kid’s an honor student” bumper stickers). Virtual currency can work well too. Set up a point system and award points to participants who complete different activities or reach specific goals. Points can be used to foster competition or buy incentives like water bottles or fitness center passes.
  • Leaderboards – Certain personalities thrive on competitions – especially when competing against others individually or in teams. Competition works best when individuals can see where they stand, and a great way to employ this online is through a leaderboard. The best designs for leaderboards allow individuals to see how far they are from reaching the team ahead of them and how closely they’re being chased.
  • Onboarding – The first few minutes of interaction sets the stage – it takes just a few minutes to engage or discourage potential participants. For the ideal onboarding experience, immediately begin with an activity that takes a few minutes – nothing too difficult – and then reward or recognize participants when they complete it. After they receive that first reward, ask them to sign up (to record their accomplishment).


These ideas just scratch the surface of how you can promote wellness activities. We can glean many more ideas from the gaming industry. If you’re contemplating implementing wellness activities in your community, it wouldn’t hurt to approach your programs as games and add ways to motivate and reward participants throughout the program. It takes a lot of work to change behaviors, but we all know it’s worth it.

For more ideas on how to implement successful wellness programs, join us for our webinar Marketing Wellness Initiatives: A Roundtable on August 18th. Representatives from four hospital groups will discuss how they implemented and promoted wellness activities, including how some of them implemented gamification tactics to keep participants motivated.

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This entry was posted in eHealth, Geonetric Culture, Social Media, User Experience by Ben Dillon. Bookmark the permalink.
Ben Dillon

About Ben Dillon

Ben’s a big picture type of guy. He loves sharing new ideas in digital marketing, keeping a watchful eye on healthcare industry trends and seeing how it all intersects. A sought-after speaker, writer, blogger and current SHSMD board member, Ben’s an influential voice in healthcare marketing, helping organizations across the country embrace online strategies to engage health consumers. Combine his industry savvy with his background in software development and you can see why he’s also an important member of Geonetric’s software team, ensuring our content management system stays a step ahead of market needs. Ben holds a master’s degree in eBusiness and strategic management from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Michigan. When he’s not traveling and evangelizing, Ben enjoys cooking with his family and playing the Big House with the University of Michigan Alumni marching band.

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