Gamification, which refers to the use of game design elements in non-game contexts, provides similar experiences and motivations as games do; this makes gamification a useful approach to promote positive behaviors. In recent years, the volume of scientific publications focusing on gamification has increased. It has been applied to different fields (e.g. learning and training, mental health, positive behavior and behavior change, personnel selection, employees training, etc.); in this way, the scientific community has spread out over different domains and with different aims. Gamification has turned out to be an excellent method also to provide a sense of community, encouraging social interaction in both present and online contexts, increasing competencies in work and educational settings. This has made gamification also a useful tool during the COVID-19 pandemic, in which it has been used to promote an active and interactive experience in the educational environment. As a useful tool for keeping users motivated, engaged and active, there is a wide interest in adopting gamification solutions for supporting and promoting positive behaviors and behavior change (e.g. quit smoking, ecological behaviors, food choices, civic engagement, mental healthcare, sustainability, etc.). However, the development of this research area has proceeded without a unique theoretical approach or a clear concept of the field; even though several studies analyzing the literature have been made, a literature mapping of gamification applied for behavior change is still missing.
In this study, we use the CiteSpace software to examine 447 publications and their 20608 unique references on gamification applied for behavior change. The corpus of studies was downloaded from the Scopus database and refers to studies published between 2012 and 2021. Several methods were used to analyze these data: (1) document co-citation analysis (DCA) was performed to identify the pivotal researches and the research areas; (2) author co-citation analysis (ACA) was performed to identify the main authors; (3) country collaboration and institutions network analysis were performed to identify the countries and institutions that contribute the most; and finally, (4) keyword analysis was performed to detect the most influential keywords and their change over time.
Overall, we discuss the findings and the need for a more cooperative and united community, in order to make the use of gamification applied to behavior change more effective, faster and goal-oriented. Hence, we introduce some future challenges to promote an improvement in the quality of publications in this research domain, as well as in other gamification fields.