“Fun and fame, not guilt and shame”

When training dogs, everyone agrees that encouraging good behaviour is at least as important as punishing bad behaviour. Yet, when it comes to changing people’s behaviour, policymakers and the public alike tend to focus on punishment. How about looking at the positive side for a change? “Fun & fame, not guilt & shame”, in the words of eco-entrepreneur Anthony Zolezzi.

A few great examples of this idea in practice can be found on the site of the VW-sponsored 2009 project The Fun Theory. Take walking up stairs instead of using an escalator or elevator: everyone know they should, very few people actually do it. Unless… the stairs were, say, a piano.

Gamification, the implementation of game-like elements such as points and achievements in daily life, is another way of going about it. Ideas abound, and cities are joining hands with companies all over the globe to put this idea into practice.

One of the best known gamification success stories is New York-based Recyclebank. Its ingenious system rewards households for putting recycling on the curb. All stakeholders love it: cities’ landfill or incineration costs  are lowered, consumers — especially their kids — like the rewards scheme. And the marketing partners love the access they get to people that are highly likely to redeem the perks they earned and to use their products.

This all sounds great, but the examples also point to a number of weaknesses. One is feasibility. Piano stairs are great fun, but turning all staircases into musical instruments seems like a tall order and might even get on people’s nerves.

Another risk is encouraging one-off good deeds but not changing long-term behaviour. So rewards should not be handed out too soon. People should be informed and convinced of the need for change, not just ‘bribed’ into taking the stairs once or recylcing trash because they’ll get a free coffee for their efforts.

Finally, rewards shouldn’t aggravate the problem they’re supposed to solve. Free coffee in a cardboard cup to encourage recycling wouldn’t make sense, for instance.

But when care is taken to avoid the pitfalls, fun and fame have great potential to improve our life and our cities. Do you know great examples of gameification in cities? Or any atrociously bad examples? Post in the comments!


One comment

  1. On feasibility: I think the fun theory should be called “the quirky theory”. People are interested in the out-of-the-ordinary. It’s fun because it’s different (also because it has a playful element to it). But I think that, not only would it annoy people, they would also stop caring.
    On gamification: scoring points and badges is the most obvious form of gamification, sometimes called ‘pointification’. We wrote about gamification and the city earlier here: https://humancityproject.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/we-were-there-the-ludic-city-conference/

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