There's a great post on WIRED about Weight Watchers being a "game." A big smile crossed my face as I saw that headline and I immediately thought back to the talk Jane McGonigal gave at SXSW called "Alternate Realities." In part, she argued, why not make life more joyful by designing fun into it? (Note: WIRED also cites Jane's talk)
Look at what happens when you stand in line at a Disney theme park. They work very hard to entertain you for something that in any other context would be irritating. From pre-shows to decorations to simply setting the mood, the experience is designed for fun.
So, too, can be weight loss. Weight Watchers lately released some cool tools on the web (and I hear iPhone very soon!) that allow you to keep track of your points, weight, etc. As a Nike+iPod user, I can attest to the power of feedback. As in game design, feedback gives a "player" the ability to know where they've come from, improve that score and gives incentives for doing better. Just last night I proudly showed my wife the longest run I'd ever run in a nifty chart on the Nike site. Yay, I've leveled up!
Folks designing systems should follow the model of game design and look for a risk/reward balance that challenges the "player" but also rewards them when they succeed. Not everyone has the inner drive and fire in their belly like Da Vinci had. Most of us are mere mortals.