We’ve been hearing a lot about “gamifiication” to get people to engage in a variety of behavior-change exercises. Does turning something into a game provide sufficient motivation? For some people it probably does. For others, not so much.

MIT’s Technology Review recently ran a story about a company that is developing devices and a virtual ecosystem designed to reward positive behaviors. Specifically, the company, Zamzee, is trying to combat childhood obesity with a body-worn monitor that records a child’s movement. By uploading the data to the company’s website, the child earns points towards which they can purchase items in the Zamzee virtual world and also real merchandise like ipods and Wii’s if they earn enough points. The more they move, the more points they earn.

One of the drawbacks of this approach was also highlighted in the article. Referencing neuroscientist Andra Aamodt, it was noted that a substantial body of research has found that intrinsic motivation outlasts extrinsic rewards.

Rather than making everything into a game, is there a way to get people to be intrinsically motivated to change their behavior in ways that allows them to stay healthier longer? This is a very tough problem. “Gamification” is just a baby step toward a solution.