Blah blah blah gamification of health care and applications.

Blah blah blah excite the user, they don’t know they’re learning.

Blah blah blah radical new way to think about apps.

Okay, so here’s what you need to know: Games have been with us since the first moment we had four extra seconds to catch our breaths between chasing and being chased by large animals. Games are how our brains work. They are huge muscles that always seem to have more cognitive surplus that we can even comprehend (ever have a song get stuck in your head? That’s your brain bored and looking for things to do. Don’t believe me? Then stop thinking about that song. See? You aren’t in charge of your brain: it plays its own set of games) so they play games.

It’s not new.

Learning the alphabet by song is a kind of game. Learning to walk is a kind of game. Anything that involves learning without immediate danger is probably a game of some sort. So it’s not new. 

What’s new is the fact that we’ve all collectively decided that games are the new way we’re gonna make fat people restrict their diet, diabetes patients track their glucose and IBS sufferers see that they have a real issue. 

So what do you need to know?

Let’s start by understanding what makes a good game. Start with the best all-around game out there today: Portal 2. What makes it a great game? I’ll let the experts explain.

Everything you need to play is given to you just in time. Rules are simple, but the circumstances evolve. You can put yourself into the game and relate to the characters. Writing (plot, characters, dialog, pacing, setting) matters.

When all those things happen, call it a game, call it a story, call it good design, whatever. It works.

Here are the things to consider if you’re really invested in making your app a game: Competition, Play, Rewards, Status.

Is Mint a game? I like making sure my money is doing what I want. There’s no competition, except with myself.

FourSquare? It’s all there.

Does your app have those components, or is it over-burdened with corporate language and having to learn 100 rules at the get-go? Are you so worried about how someone might use it that you’ve built walls to make it more of a maze than a game?

Remember ten years ago when the watchword was design? Everyone thought they could slap on some “design” on everything and it would sell. Design is a function of a design culture. You can’t graft it on at the end. This is why game companies (generally) make better games than non-game companies. They live gaming. 

Do you live gaming? Then take a second look before jumping in.