Ham Radio Gamification
Setting operating goals has been useful for me in ham radio. They often provided a reason or incentive for me to get on the air and make some contacts. I followed the typical award sequence of Worked All States (WAS), Worked All Continents (WAC), DX Century Club (DXCC), and so forth. I wrote about it here: Pursue Radio Operating Goals.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that some amateur radio activities include the elements of gamification. Gamification is a hot topic in user interface design, online learning, and other computer-based systems. The basic idea is to incorporate gaming techniques into activities to increase user engagement. From Wikipedia:
Gamification techniques are intended to leverage people’s natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure, or simply their response to the framing of a situation as game or play.
Gamification commonly uses these elements (also from Wikipedia):
Game design elements are the basic building blocks of gamification applications. Among these typical game design elements, are points, badges, leader-boards, performance graphs, meaningful stories, avatars, and teammates.
This article discusses some of the principles involved and Dennis/AD6DM wrote this piece on the topic: The Gamification of Ham Radio.
Summits On The Air
I first became aware of this topic after I became involved in Summits On The Air (SOTA). Before SOTA was a thing, I was often found on the top of some summit making radio contacts. So when SOTA was established in Colorado (W0C), I thought “this is interesting but I am already doing it.” It did strike my fancy enough that I started submitting logs into the SOTA database. Oh, guess what, many of my mountaintop operations were the first activation for SOTA. How about that? I am the first. I win. I have bragging rights, or something.
Soon I was accumulating SOTA activator and chaser points. My first objective was to qualify for the 100-point activator certificate. (SOTA has many certificates and awards.) Achieving 100 points took me about 15 activations, so it is not too difficult but does represent an accomplishment. It did not take very long to do this and soon I was focused on 1000 points for the coveted Mountain Goat award. That goal took several years to complete, but I got it done. I decided to only use the VHF/UHF bands for the Mountain Goat award, so that was my little personal twist on that accomplishment.
We can clearly see that the SOTA program has these elements of gamification: points, badges (certificates/awards), and leaderboards. For me, the leaderboard is the Activator Role of Honour, with the Colorado (W0C) Association selected:
At the moment, I am #12 on the list. I do not aspire to be at the top of the list but I do want to be on the list, somewhere above the 1000 mark. I also like to see how my fellow W0C SOTA activators have been doing. For example, it has been fun to watch Szymon/WV0X go from zero activator points to over 1800 in a short period of time. Also, Gary/W0MNA and Martha/W0ERI are a couple from Kansas (no SOTA summits in the state) that have both made it to Mountain Goat. Not an easy accomplishment. It is cool to see that we have 19 Mountain Goats in the association and more on their way. Pretty good!
SOTA does not specifically have any teams formed as part of the program but the camaraderie of W0C is essentially a team. We share information about various summits and encourage each other when new goals are achieved. Sometimes groups of activators get together for a joint activation. (Most areas that have significant SOTA activity also have this community/team effect.)
Parks On The Air
Recently, I have become involved with Parks On The Air (POTA), which also has gamification built into it. POTA has the advantage of parks being virtually everywhere. (Unlike SOTA summits, Kansas has parks to activate.) As Joyce/K0JJW and I have traveled around the country, POTA has been a satisfying activity to include in our plans.
POTA has many different award schemes, too many to mention here. I pulled up my awards page to see what I have qualified for:
The objective I have set for POTA is to activate all the parks in Colorado. I want to visit them anyway, so this is a good opportunity to blend ham radio with our travel plans. There are 187 POTA parks in Colorado, so this is going to take a while to complete.
Gamification can be used to make ham radio activity more fun and to more fully engage the participants. Traditional radio contesting is clearly a competition and has the elements of keeping score, having leaderboards (after the contest) and having teammates. However, most contests provide painfully slow feedback. The official results may not be posted until 6 months later. (The 3830 Scores website was created to bypass this delay by sharing scores immediately.) Contesting is obviously a game, so where’s the gamification?
Perhaps your radio club (or just your group of ham friends) can use gamification to have fun. You could leverage programs like SOTA and POTA to create a club activity. Pursue a club goal (activate 50 parks or summits this year), a friendly competition, whatever. POTA lets you activate with a club call while still providing credit for the operator, so that opens up some possibilities.
If you are getting stale in your ham radio operating, perhaps one of these gamified programs would be good motivation for you. It could be SOTA or POTA (both include chasing, so you can do it from home), or maybe some other program out there.
Those are my thoughts. What do you think?
73 Bob K0NR
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