Can game mechanics help you “beat” debt?

Can game mechanics help you “beat” debt?


The most logical solution isn’t always the most emotionally successful. This article by Angela Self in the Globe and Mail about reducing debt brought up an interesting idea about achievement as motivation that closely mirrors what we know about gamified design.

While trying to find a way to get out of debt across multiple credit card bills, the most logical is to start paying them off in order of highest interest rate.  However, it’s also more difficult to do so, especially if the card with the highest interest rate also happens to be the largest balance. It takes longer to see any kind of change happening while the interest keeps compounding, which can be frustrating and discouraging. For example, a $10,000 debt at an interest rate of 20%, with $500 per month paydown will take about 25 months to fully pay off! Whereas a debt of $1,000 with a 12% interest rate, at $500 a month would take only 3 months.

Ms. Self found that when she reversed the logical process and reorganized the debts in order of lowest balance, she was able to see more progress as she cleared the lesser debts. The more she accomplished, the more positive she began to feel that she could repay everything after all. Simply put: by seeing progress earlier and with more demonstrability, she felt more engaged and motivated.

Just like beating levels or unlocking achievements in a game, this positive reinforcement drives the player to do more & perform better. Credit card debt is by no means a small problem – it can ruin a person’s life if they’re not able to get it under control. This kind of simple gaming element is a tactic often used by debt assistance programs in order to make clients feel more at ease during such a stressful time. They don’t call it gamification, but the principles are still the same. If we can start to acknowledge gamification as constructive tool that it is, we can incorporate it into other difficult challenges to stimulate positive results and help more people feel like winners.


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