Urinal Gamification Misses the Mark

However inconvenient it might be sometimes, emptying your bladder is inevitable. You might want to do it at the time, especially if the time is the middle of a long road trip, but it’s not something that most people look forward to otherwise. It’s a negative reinforcement activity (escaping the feeling of having to go or avoiding having to go later when it’s less convenient). People even say, “I have to go to the restroom.”

As reported by NBC News, this is changing for men as the gamification craze brings the urinal into the 21st century. This new gaming system was designed to draw attention to health messages on urinal video screens. The health video plays until someone walks up to the urinal, which terminates the video and starts a downhill snowmobile game. The man maneuvers the snowmobile with his urine flow, and tries to score points by running over penguins.

Sounds like fun, but probably not so much for the person who has to clean the floor. The game reinforces behavior directly incompatible with the straight-and-steady aim that parents commonly instill in young boys. The system doesn’t claim to teach toileting etiquette, so it’s difficult to criticize it too much for the unfortunate side effect it might cause at home.  This is after all supposed to be a way to get men’s attention to the health information on the screen. The problem is that it switches to game mode when the man walks up to the urinal. If health education is a primary goal of the gaming system, it’s a bust.

The video in the article highlights the use of the system in a bar in the U.K. and gives a clue to a likely underlying goal of the system—an increase in beer sales! You can’t play without having to go. Although the educational benefit of this system is more than a little suspect, they’ve effectively turned a have to behavior into a want to behavior and brought joy to a routine behavior.

See also: Positive Reinforcement Can Kill

Posted by Tom Spencer, Ph.D.

As President and CEO, Tom actively works with ADI staff and clients to create positive change and achieve desired business goals. For nearly 25 years, his experience and ideas have shaped pragmatic and integrated approaches to applying the science of behavior to the workplace. Tom has written extensively on topics related to leadership, consequence management, performance fluency, and technology development. When not leading ADI, Tom enjoys trail running and following the WVU Mountaineers.