Gamification is “is the application of game elements and digital game design techniques to non-game problems, such as business and social impact challenges”, to borrow the course description from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania’s Gamification MOOC.

The approach has been used to try and improve employee productivity, facilitate risk prevention education (and indeed many other forms of education) , resolve social conflict, and, perhaps less surprisingly, in marketing. And just in case you thought there were any contexts in which gamification couldn’t be used, militaries are already in on the act, with both the US military and the Israeli Defence Force using it to try and cultivate favourable attitudes and support and get their message out to target audiences. Gamifiying conflict by militaries was always going to be controversial, especially when they’re actively engaged in warfare as the IDF discovered in 2012, although gamification guru Yu-kai Chou argues that this is actually just coming full circle given that most games are predicated on mimicking the essential characteristics of war in the first place.

But if trying to make war appealing and “fun” will strike many people as a negative (or at least highly pragmatic) use of gamification, what about efforts aimed at highlighting the horrors of war? Helen Berents recently responded to the release of a viral advert from UK charity War Child that is designed to raise awareness of children’s experiences of conflict. Using Storify, this post presents the debate that ensued (minus the bit that happened on Facebook, which I’ll leave Helen to summarise), and considers the role and efficacy of emotion in trying to mobilize people in support of a particular cause.

Before diving in, a warning that this is not my usual area and this is only a very preliminary overview that’s designed to begin thinking about some of the issues involved and the questions raised. Hopefully the discussion can be continued in the comments.