Researchers and health professionals have long been curious about the potential of electronic games for purposes beyond entertainment. This topic is of particular importance given the rapid growth of the game industry, whose products are enjoyed by over 1.5 billion people worldwide (), many of them on mobile devices. As the number of smartphone users continues to grow, with conservative estimates projecting a rise from 2 billion worldwide at the end of 2015 to 6.1 billion in 2020 ( ), the mobile games market is likely to keep pace. By 2020, 4.5 billion people, nearly half the world’s population, will be gamers. As such, there have been a number of efforts to leverage game-related techniques and technologies for positive impact, mostly through gamification and serious games. Most, however, have been met with limited success.
Gamification is traditionally defined as the addition of game mechanics to everyday processes (). In an attempt to increase motivation for otherwise unpleasant tasks, it is currently one of the leading buzzwords in the health care sector. Like big data, it was positioned as a magic bullet that would combat lack of adherence to medications, encourage healthy eating and exercise habits, and otherwise help people manage their conditions. The reality falls short of the hype, with 80% of all gamification initiatives failing to meet their objectives, especially as they pertain to long-term change ( ).
Serious games, a somewhat oxymoronic term deriving from the Renaissance serio ludere, refers to entertainment that dealt with serious matters (). These are games that have something other than “entertainment, enjoyment or fun as their primary purpose” ( ). They long predate the concept of gamification and, indeed, …
Djaouti, D., Alvarez, J., Jessel, J., Rampnoux, O., Origins of Serious Games. In Ma, M., Oikonomou, A., Jain, L. (eds.), Serious Games and Edutainment Applications. Springer-Verlag, London (2011) 25-44. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4471-2161-9_3