The Gamification of Government: Playing for Success

Mike O'Brien

The concept of gamification may be new to many, but the U.S. government has been playing around with it since 2003.

A decade later and many federal agencies are effectively utilizing gaming techniques to leverage success.

The big leap came when NASA jumped on board and developed the Moonbase Alpha computer game, designed by the same group that made the U.S. Army’s signature title America’s Army.

Related: [Video] Gamification: What it is and What it Does

But while the military game focused on recruitment, NASA’s new baby targeted students and aimed to deepen their knowledge of major concepts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In the past 10 years Eric Hackathorn, Data Visualization and Games program manager for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has worked on a number of successful gamification projects, the technology website reports.

He created a virtual world modeled after Rock Creek Park, outside of Washington, D.C., which the Department of Energy uses the enlighten people about energy efficient buildings.

Mr. Hackathorn is currently working on an ambitious game which involves dealing with violent storms, environmental disasters and emergency response.

The game aims to teach about climate, satellite control and environmental damage mitigation strategies.

He told "Games have a unique ability to engage people, to make them do things. They can make a child do homework, or improve someone's data entry skills."

President Barack Obama has been a supporter of gamification efforts through the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

During a speech at the TechBoston conference in 2011 he requested more educational games as well as games that address national challenges.

He said: "I’m calling for investments in educational technology that will help create...educational software that’s as compelling as the best video game. I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that’s teaching you something other than just blowing something up."

The gamification drive led to the formation of the Federal Games Working Group, otherwise known as the Federal Games Guild.

Today that group has over 200 members representing 34 agencies, four White House offices and four other federal entities. The group regularly meets to discuss gaming strategy and share experiences.

Daniel Laughlin, the lead researcher for NASA Learning Technologies, has been the guild’s co-chairman since its formation.

He said the guild can save agencies valuable resources, adding: "That's one of the reasons we started the Federal Games Guild, to share experience and lessons learned between folks working with games and government."