Number 39 in our countdown of '70 Ways Art Improves Our Health' explores the art of gamification…

If you’ve ever used a phone app to track your diet or you subscribe to a supermarket loyalty scheme in which you collect points, you already know what gamification is. Gamification uses creativity to improve our attitudes towards certain activities. It fuses design techniques used in games with non-game settings.

Gamification has been a hot topic in health and wellbeing over the last few years and seems now to be appearing everywhere.

“A stop smoking app with game design elements helped 23% of users quit smoking at double the normal rate.”

Health gamification first appeared around 2010 with exercise apps such as Zombies, Run!, which motivates you to run while escaping a zombie apocalypse (of course). Other health apps use game design elements such as points, badges, levels, challenges and avatars to motivate everything from getting physical therapy posture correct to remembering medical knowledge for student doctors.

Studies so far suggest that gamification works. A stop smoking app that incorporates game mechanics helped 23% of users quit smoking after 12 weeks - double the normal quit rate.

Another study in 2013 focused on an online support (using points and rewards) for men living with HIV. After three months, those on antiretroviral treatment were significantly better at sticking to their drug regimen.

Using game design elements creatively could be key to addressing many health challenges. Although adults do play games, gamification could be particularly effective for children and young people who are more comfortable with game design and technology.

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