Gamification is a relatively new term which was coined and has been made highly popular in the Internet era. From the related Wikipedia article:

Though the term "gamification" was coined in 2002 by Nick Pelling, a British-born computer programmer and inventor, it did not gain popularity until 2010.

The term has made it into recognized English Dictionaries. Oxford Online Dictionary defines it as:

The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service

However, the concept of "gamification" itself is not new. Our parents and teachers, for instance, have constantly been rewarding or trying to recognize our useful participation and constructive contribution in one way or the other.

That said, it is implied that if you fail to perform up to the mark, you risk not getting the rewards or worse, having the rewards taken away from you.

Consider a few examples of gains and loses,

  • You gain if

    • You are the first to complete an assignment and win a certificate/extra grade points.

    • You assist you mother in maintaining the garden / walk your dog and get extra pocket money.

  • You lose if

    • You fail to complete and submit the assignment, lose some ranks in the Class Leader board and have your name added to the "Defaulters" list.

    • Your sibling perfectly completes a household task and pockets all the cash even those earmarked for you!

Today, Gamification would be THE term. But...

Is there a proper term that conveys the concept of "gamification"/"gamifying something" before it became popular? (thanks to the Internet).

Could incentivize be that term? Or are there other terms that aptly preceded gamification? (may be in the last few decades of 20th century)

Usage Sentence:

Our parents and teachers used to __________ our routines , rewarding every useful contribution and penalizing unproductive actions. Today, it's known as gamification!

Clarification on the Usage Sentence above:

The above usage sentence is tentative and please let it not mislead or restrict you. Answerers can give any example that fits this context.

  • 2
    Thanks for identifying Mr. Pelling as the guy responsible for this commercially necessary but aesthetically distressing word! And, with @DanBron, cheers for posing a fine question!
    – Rob_Ster
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 14:19
  • I wonder if the stripes and chevrons and colors and badges on a military inform can be considered the Ur-example of gamification.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 14:21
  • 1
    Oops. You edited to include your example. Then, it should be "positive reinforcement". What shall I do?
    – user140086
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 14:27
  • 3
    For children the point system was marked on a "reward chart", and/or teachers used to hand out "gold stars"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 14:31
  • 8
    It reminds me of the "Spoonful of Sugar" theory expounded in the song from Mary Poppins: "In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun/You find the fun and, snap, the job's a game." That sociological hypothesis was put forward in 1964.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 17:00

5 Answers 5


I love the word gamify. Before that we used to have to use the set phrase, "Turn it into a game". My mom would say, "Okay kids. Let's turn it into a game." Then she would gamify our chores with little tiles for points and score cards for the week, with minimum number of tiles to earn for a popsicle, etc.

Your example sentence:

Our parents and teachers used to turn our routines into a game , rewarding every useful contribution and penalizing unproductive actions. Today, it's known as gamification!

  • 17
    gamify (ˈɡemɪˌfaɪ) - v. To transform into the shape of an attractive female leg. Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 14:56
  • 1
    The process of using -ify and -ize to make nouns into verbs turns out to have been discussed at length, right on this very forum.
    – Lynnjamin
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 15:40
  • 1
    Also make it into a game
    – Jim
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 15:48
  • 1
    @jim, I realized that after I wrote my answer, but because I was quoting my mom, who preferred to turn things instead of make things, it felt more natural. And I like the idea of turning, because it conveys a sense of transformation rather than creation.
    – Lynnjamin
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 15:52
  • 3
    @SpehroPefhany I'd assume it would be gammify. The m, since it is preceded by a "short" vowel and is in a stressed syllable, would be doubled before a suffix starting with a vowel. Hence you get /ˈgæmɪ̈ˌfaɪ/.
    – trlkly
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 14:04

In the UK, the term "Brownie points" had pretty much the same meaning since the 1960s and was quite widely used. I always assumed the origin was from the "points and badges" awards in the junior division (Brownies) of the Girl Guide movement.

Wikipedia has some alternative etymological conjectures: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownie_points

(But it doesn't quite fit the OP's "usage sentence", since the noun "Brownie points" never got verbed.)

  • In the USA too. Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 21:23
  • @hatchet Brownie points refers to the good will someone feels towards you when you help them in some way in the US. I don't believe it ever refers to actual rewards, even something as simple as a title. Indeed, it's often used to point out the intangible social reward for such a deed that receives no visible reward. I can't speak about the UK from experience, but I see no mention of a different meaning there on the Wikipedia page.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 23:25
  • @jpmc26 - It's similar in the sense that they are virtual points, somewhat like reputation points on StackExchange sites, earned for doing something beneficial, although not as rigorously tallied. The main point of my comment though was to say that the answer isn't exclusive to the UK. Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 23:30
  • @hatchet But it's dissimilar in that "gamification" refers to actually putting visible (if not tangible) elements in place to track the rewards, while "brownie points" is just a vague good will toward a person who did something that helped you. Gamification is obvious, visible, measurable, quantifiable, provable. Brownie points are none of those.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 23:36
  • @jpmc26: Until the popularity contests get started, at which time brownie points are all of the above. However, I agree the terms are different. Making a game of something is so the task itself is rewarding; the points or stars or whatever are just means to the end of having fun. With brownie points, the points themselves are often the objective; you don't earn brownie points with your boss because you enjoy it, but because you want a promotion.
    – MichaelS
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 1:09

Jean-Francois Lyotard wrote about the "sportification" (presumably the verb he used would have been sportifier) of society, in which things are stripped of their traditional character in the name of points, competition, and winners. Consider the way that "sports" themselves evolved from activities with a distinctly moral character (compare German academic fencing with sport fencing, for example, or English public-school ball games before and after the creation of the Football Association). It's a slightly different phenomenon though, and at least in Lyotard's eyes, strongly pejorative.

The Lyotard book in question is The Postmodern Condition, French edition 1979/English translation 1984, but it's been many years since college and I can no longer say how much of the above reflects Lyotard and how much reflects secondary literature on him (not to mention my own thoughts on the matter). But the word does appear there.

  • This is really interesting, and not something I've come across before. Can you add a couple references to your answer, so we can read up more? Thank you!
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 18:16
  • If I recall correctly, it's from The Postmodern Condition. Internet says publication date 1979, English translation 1984. Short but oh so painful to read in undergraduate philosophy.
    – Robotman
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 18:21
  • That's information worth editing into your answer!
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 18:22
  • I can't find any references to "sportification" in The Postmodern Condition; did you actually locate it there? It certainly may have appeared in some of his later works, but your description sounds more like Baudrillard to me. The people most due credit for the concept of "sportification" are Allen Guttmann and Henning Eichberg. Eichberg in particular is a great read if you're interested in a postmodern interpretation of the world of sports. She sees sportification as part and parcel of a universal hegemonic trend of standardization and globalization, marking a "revolution of body culture." Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 15:06

You could consider using inducement which means:

something that gives you a reason for doing something and makes you want to do it

a motive or consideration that leads one to action or to additional or more effective actions


English Language and Usage offers reputation points and badges as an inducement for users to keep visiting the site.


Edit: Your example makes me wonder if inducement is the right word. In that case, you could consider using reinforcement which means:

a strengthening of a specific behavior due to its association with a stimulus. Reinforcement is an important part of operant or instrumental conditioning. A reinforcer is the stimulus that strengthens the behavior, in contrast to punishment that weakens the behavior.

Your new example:

Our parents and teachers used reinforcement to reinforce our routines, rewarding every useful contribution (as positive reinforcement or reinforcer) and penalizing unproductive actions (as punishment).

  • I was thinking "enticement" but your "inducement" is a much better word, hands down! +1 Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 14:28
  • Jeez, I have edited again... I want to convey both +ve and -ve effects, just like how gamification does (You can either gain or lose)
    – BiscuitBoy
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 14:38
  • I can't tell if the OP is looking for behavior modification or what but you seem to have a single word for it, so plus one. Phrases before "gamification" include gaming/playing the system which this word also seems to fit, so plus two.
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 16:06
  • @Mazura Thanks. I thought about deleting it as the question was edited a few times.
    – user140086
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 16:09
  • The edits changed nothing. Your comment of "positive reinforcement" is also spot-on. Pavlov trumps Mary Poppins any day of the week. The question is flawed: what did we call [playing the system] before there were 'systems' is a non-starter: "typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service". What did we call that before there was the internet? : We didn't. Behavior modification is called conditioning and is accomplished by (TIL) inducement.
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 16:28

I think the word you need is 'fun'. To make something 'fun' to do, is by implication turning it into play, or a game.

  • The process of making a chore fun is rarely fun, and that is the term that is sought.
    – choster
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 20:52
  • The process of gamification is probably just a chore as well. The intent is to 'create fun', and it was in that context that I was using it. There is no verb 'funification', but the pre-internet use of 'to make something fun' is comparable to 'to gamify something'.
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 21:15

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