Three Ways to Overcome the Commuter Blues with Gamification

Three Ways to Overcome the Commuter Blues with Gamification

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Gamification has largely focused on ways to play while you are at work, but what about getting to work in the first place? Regular work commutes are unpredictable, occasionally dangerous, and often overly stressful. An unimaginable number of variables are involved in the simple act of getting to-and-from work, and because of our car culture of hermetically sealed tin cans, the lonesome road is normally just that: lonely. You may think that social driving has already been tried to deleterious effect (see the rise of texting and driving), but gamification has proven that it can be effective at making drivers more aware of their cars, more aware of the road, and a bit more aware of one another.

Finding the Path with Waze
Waze is one of the best gamified apps you may not have heard of. Proving the value of a multitude of buzzwords, Waze incorporates crowdsourcing, location-based, and gamification into an idea that has already received $67M in three rounds of funding and is the most widely used navigation app in Israel, where it got its start. The application is based on the idea that commuters know their road the best and have valuable information to share with others. Game mechanics encourage drivers to head to roads that need mapping and report on road conditions, traffic, and hazards. Points and leaderboards encourage drivers to engage with one another and compete to report. Rather than get distracted to socialize while driving, Waze gets people to socialize in order to drive more efficiently. Di Ann Eisnor, the Community Geographer at Waze said in an interview with building43, “We are beginning to really understand driver behavior, and the gamification has helped that. We know how far people will diverge from their route in order to participate or get some value.”

Ford’s New Game
Ford has already made great strides towards using gamification to get a car to “talk” to humans. In 2010, Ford’s digital team took a Ford Fiesta and lavished it with cutting edge sensors and an uplink to the Internet. The result was a car that could “talk” about what it was feeling. On a transcontinental road trip, conditions of rain, traffic, and fuel levels were all taken in through the car’s network of sensors and tweeted to followers. The prototype represented the first steps towards dashboard interfaces that used visual representations (see left) to effectively emote what the car “feels”. This follows in the footsteps of gamification in user experience (UX) design by thinking about human interaction outside of the realm of utility through gages and dials, and instead thinking in terms of engagement and getting the human drivers to care about the car.

Pirate Wi-Fi: the L-Train Notwork
The subway experience will never be as solitary as an automobile, but besides sideways glances and the occasional character, most passengers stick to themselves. FastCompany previously covered the L-Train Notwork, an ad-hoc art project slowly taking over the New York subway. Part lo-fi game, part social network, the L-Train Notwork was a temporary project that aimed at bringing commuters together. WeMakeCoolSh.it, the makers of the Notwork, had the idea to break through the silence with a pirate wi-fi network that allowed commuters to join in a chat via smartphone. Testers made a game out of identifying who they were chatting with, and ended up having a bit more fun on the subway.


Each of these projects highlight how gamification can help to find the best path, avoid hazards, and connect with other commuters. It is more apparent with mass transit, but even on the road, we are all sharing the journey together. Gamification just helps us to realize that.

.photo via zoonabar on Flickr

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