The earliest games are known to be originated by the Greeks three thousand years ago. Herodotus saw these games as an attempt to not only pass the time, but also to alleviate suffering. In the opening book of The Histories, Herodotus writes3:
"When Atys was king of Lydia in Asia Minor some three thousand years ago, a great scarcity threatened his realm. For a while, people accepted their lot without complaining, in the hope that times of plenty would return. But when things failed to get better, the Lydians devised a strange remedy for their problem. The plan adopted against the famine was to engage in games one day so entirely as not to feel any craving for food...and the next day to eat and abstain from games. In this way they passed eighteen years, and along the way they invented the dice, knuckle-bones, the ball, and all the games which are common"4.
The games used in this context were seen as large-scale systems, designed to organize masses of people and make an entire civilization more resilient. Games signify cognitive effort, emotional energy, focus and engagement, and when we play them, we are presented with different challenges and rewards. Many games are meant to teach, inspire, and bring people together. Nowadays, the contexts offered by the real world just do not seem to provide an environment with such carefully designed pleasures and thrilling challenges in comparison to the game environment. Despite having different society dynamics in comparison to three thousand years ago, our basic human needs and desires - to survive, to care for our families, and to lead happy, purposeful lives - remain the same3.
Games indeed represent an experience-structured environment, and they universally share four defining traits:
A goal: An specific outcome that players will work to achieve. It provides players with a sense of purpose.
Rules: Limitations on how the goals can be achieved. It fosters strategic thinking and creativity.
A Feedback System: Lets players know how close they are to achieving the goal. It serves as a motivation to keep playing and trying to achieve the goal.
Voluntary participation: It establishes a common ground, a common understanding for people to play the game, to knowingly and willingly accept the goal, the rules and challenges.
Gamification uses these four traits and these motivational tools when it comes to designing platforms that engage us, challenge us, motivates us and rewards us by providing instant outcomes and feedback. For the success of gamification platforms, the goals need to be compelling, the obstacles need to be interesting, and the feedback systems well-designed. Otherwise, the mere act of just adding these traits and motivational tools (e.g. adding badges and time constraints without clear goals) will not result in a successful implementation of game design mechanics.