What Can Jesus Teach Us About Gamification?

Juhani VuotiChristmas is right around the corner and it will halt the entire western hemisphere at least for a while. Our thoughts are with our loved ones and we think about ways to contribute to our community. Religiously speaking, the central character of Christmas is of course Jesus. To honor the spirit of Christmas, I aim to examine in this blog post, what Jesus would say about gamification. That man knew how to tell compelling, thought-provoking stories. I’m not going to emphasize the religious aspects of the following story, as the story itself is brilliant and can be used to introduce a nontraditional viewpoint on gamification. The story goes like this:

“As Jesus was telling what the kingdom of heaven would be like, he said: Early one morning a man went out to hire some workers for his vineyard. After he had agreed to pay them the usual amount for a day’s work, he sent them off to his vineyard. About nine that morning, the man saw some other people standing in the market with nothing to do. He promised to pay them what was fair, if they would work in his vineyard. So they went. At noon and again about three in the afternoon he returned to the market. And each time he made the same agreement with others who were loafing around with nothing to do. Finally, about five in the afternoon the man went back and found some others standing there. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?” “Because no one has hired us,” they answered. Then he told them to go work in his vineyard.

That evening the owner of the vineyard told the man in charge of the workers to call them in and give them their money. He also told the man to begin with the ones who were hired last. When the workers arrived, the ones who had been hired at five in the afternoon were given a full day’s pay. The workers who had been hired first thought they would be given more than the others. But when they were given the same, they began complaining to the owner of the vineyard. They said, “The ones who were hired last worked for only one hour. But you paid them the same that you did us. And we worked in the hot sun all day long!” The owner answered one of them, “Friend, I didn’t cheat you. I paid you exactly what we agreed on. Take your money now and go! What business is it of yours if I want to pay them the same that I paid you? Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Why should you be jealous, if I want to be generous?”

(Contemporary American English Version / American Bible Society)

The workers, who had been sweating the whole day, were rightfully upset. The pay was of course unjust for those, who had done most of the work, and as a compensation system, it would most definitely not be encouraging. However, the focus of the story is not in justness but in mercy. Mercy is what leads us to gamification, because usually when implementing gamification, we try to be as fair as we can. This approach is justifiable, if we are building a competition of some sort to motivate people. Yet gamification isn’t always about competition. Gamification as such does not aim for giving just rewards, but it’s a practical way to motivate people to perform desired actions.

In the above story, everyone was working, which is an excellent accomplishment as such. If gamification is implemented well, it encourages many people to act. But excellent implementation of gamification encourages all to take action. Not everyone is motivated by competition and many can be intimidated if they need to compare their own performance with others. The most important thing in this case is to accept the individual as he is and encourage him to pursue goals that suit him best.

In the workplace, we usually give recognition for successful performance. The value of the reward is defined in relation to the profits the company gets from work performances; the reward is never more valuable than the profit, or otherwise the rewarding system would not make much sense. We’ve adopted this approach, because the resources for rewarding are limited and the amount of resources usually depends on the profits made possible by work performance.

However, gamification isn’t just about money, and profits, and sharing the wealth with the “players”. There are other resources that can be used to motivate besides cold, hard cash. The amount of these resources varies, but in some cases they are limitless. One of these resources is simply positive feedback. Gratitude never involves taking something away from someone else. A thank-you doesn’t cost anything for the giver, but it is still very valuable for the receiver and will boost her motivation. If we have an infinite resource of gratitude, what could stop us from being as merciful and encouraging as the man in the story?

Gamification is all about giving a man the thing he needs to perform the right actions. Not just the thing he deserves based on the results. A well gamified workplace is employee’s heaven.

The writer is in charge of Cloudriven’s consulting services in gamification, training and competency development and in addition to engineering, he has studied theology. Read more about Juhani’s thoughts on gamification from his Gamify blog.