Dangers of Gamification #1 – Zombie Users


Time to read: 4 minutes.

A Zombie user slavishly completes tasks just to acquire points to reach the next level, badge or achievement. They exist in workplaces where learning has become a metric driven and dashboard enabled machine that drives users through the learning content.

In video games this is called grinding and it’s usually a sign of poor game design. It’s the requirement for the player to build up enough points (or coins, magic items or whatever) through doing repetative and dull tasks (e.g. killing similar minions) to unlock the next part of the game.

Points, levels and badges can be useful, but only if they’re meaningful to the learner, not the organisation and only if they’re part of the overall learning design and not bolted on as an afterthought. There are a couple of ways they can turn users into Zombies if they’re implemented poorly.

  1. If they are not meaningful enough, learners very quickly see through them and disengage. They turn into Zombies by being forced to jump through these hoops that actually hurt the learning process.
  2. Learners can quickly work out how to game the system and slavishly do the tasks, read the posts, comment on the posts, click the boxes etc. just to get the job done and move on with their productive lives. This replicates the tick-box exercises we see so often in Compliance training.
  3. Some learners will love the competition elements and seek to ‘win’. This means they will do everything demanded by the system for the joy of winning. The whole idea of learning is to enable performance of the individual as part of their organisation but these learners switch to being in it for themselves. A little competition can be good, but an obession with being top is bad for all concerned. Not least everyone else who isn’t and can never be.

So how do you avoid turning your users into Zombies? Think about Gamification in a better way. Great games engage at an emotional and social level. They make you want to keep playing because of the experience you had and the people you played with. Move away from just points and leveling up and think about how you can challenge the learners to do something meaningful. Challenge is one of the key factors in great learning. If we have to try hard, we learn more deeply and are willing to come back for more. Challenge your learners as a team and let them work together on tasks. Make the tasks relevant and realistic in their reality and give them a solid reason to engage.

Don’t turn your learners into Zombies. Think about Gamification in a better way.