Gamification is one term used to describe a movement to bring game mechanics to ordinary activities, such as banking and health care. Other terms include funware and pervasive gaming. Jesse Schell gave a nice talk about it at DICE 2010. Jane McGonigal has been blogging about it forever.
The movement is a hot topic in high places (Forbes and many other high profile media have run pieces, for instance), enough that there is already somewhat of a backlash and return to reality at such events as this year’s Playful. Two years ago they were just getting the ball rolling.
You also have the Gamification Encyclopedia and Gamify.org by Nathan Lands, and Gamification by Gabe Zichermann. A pervasive gaming project that ended in 2008 but will be a book soon, There’s a summit scheduled for January.
Gamification is kind of a sister to ARGs, or alternate reality gaming. ARGs are games that take place in the real world, but remain games. There are ARGs where you wander around with your phone playing pacman with other players; ARGNet lists many others. One interesting recent example is De Profundis, a combination ARG and RPG with a Lovecraft theme, where you personally do all the activities (such as library research) that you would ordinarily have your PC do in a regular RPG.
Gamification is when the real world uses games to further the real world. The line between that and an ARG is kind of blurry.
I see the term “gamification” used as far back as 2006, but with a slightly different definition (namely, trivializing serious issues by turning them into games).
Jane and her cohort also just launched a social network explicitly set out to be an incubator for would-be designers who seek to change the world through game design.
Lots of good background information here on gamification! At BigDoor (http://www.bigdoor.com/) we’re a startup working with publishers to add game mechanics to their sites. We work with our partners to figure out the intrinsic motivations for a user to engage with their sites – whether that is through badges, points, leaderboards, levels, virtual currencies and goods.