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How to Use Gamification for Social Change


"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit.

Are you interested in what happens in the next sentence?

Books can offer entertainment, growth and education, but in the end they are static. The words may propel you along to the end but they never change. And you may bring a new understanding to the language if it is re-read, but still the words are the same. Once a book is finished; you put it down and move on. Games are capable of giving you that same effect as well, but can offer an experience that’s dynamic and interactive in the moment. Games are constantly changing according to a player's decisions or actions. Rewarding you when you do well and penalizing you when you choose or do something poorly. So how can a game be used for social change or as behavior change tool? The name for this concept is gamification.

How to Use Gamification for Social Change

What is gamification?


Gamification is a idea that has you take something as routine as vocabulary building, recycling, or exercise and turning it into something exciting. Let’s face it; exercise can be tedious and so can be memorizing new words. By turning these events into games, you can change these tasks into something exciting, and make it easier to learn or sustain a behavior too. Let's look at three examples of using gamification for social change.

Using gamification to reduce world hunger


Freerice ( is a multiple-choice game that has you pick the definition to a word. The United Nations World Food Program owns and supports this web-based game. For each right answer, you donate ten grains of rice. The donated rice is then given to underprivileged countries. Not only are you learning definitions to words you didn’t know the existence of, you‘re donating rice to a hungry family in need.

Using gamification for better health and reduced traffic congestion through exercise


Love to Ride ( is a game originally developed in Australia that is now used to sustain behavior change in 9 countries. For each player in each local area, challenges and incentives change as you compete with yourself (primarily), and optionally, co-workers and other riders in your community to log the number of trips or miles you've ridden. A game like this helps you progress and build confidence if you are a non-cyclist, and brings an interesting competitive twist to an already competitive sport if you're a regular cyclist. You’re also helping the environment by cycling and not driving to work.

Using gamification to tackle climate change


Closer to the Green Mountain State, the Vermontivate online game ( is an annual challenge designed to help players of all ages and experience levels take meaningful action on climate change. You can play as an individual, or as a team member for a school, a community or workplace. You can "win" prizes by collecting points for completing an extensive array of suggested climate-friendly tasks, as well as being recognized for submitting photos or other sharing activities.

Gaming is a diverse medium

Gamification is a  great technique that can become an innovative part of your outreach tool kit for social or behavior change. Using games and gamification techniques can offer nonprofits and public agencies a unique and engaging way to interact with their community to promote change that benefits the individual and society. And let's face it, who among us doesn't enjoy a game?


  1. Changing Minds: The science behind visual storytelling, Change Conversations

  2. Epic Fail or Win? Gamifying Learning in My Classroom, Edutopia

  3. Fun, finance and gamification, Times Argus

Guest blogger Shawn Carter hails from Shelburne, Vermont and is a student at Champlain College, up the hill from our waterfront offices in Burlington

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