Gamification Question

What does Gamification mean to everybody? Has it really been defined?

Gamification to me has many connotations. When I think of games I think of Dungeons & Dragons, first-person shooters, trivial pursuit, table top games (Life, Payday, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Takenoko), card games (solitaire, poker, Magic, Cards Against Humanity), Yahtzee, Skyrim. The list seems endless, They have varying levels of complexity and game mechanics, they also have some amount of randomness (such as dice roles).

Does Gamification mean adding a Jeopardy style mechanic to a course? Does it mean adding simulations? Does it mean badges and leader boards?

I'm not convinced that Gamification is effective, but first I think I need to understand what people mean when they talk about Gamification.

What are your thoughts?

17 Replies
Phil Mayor

I understand gamification as taking the motivational techniques from games and applying these in an elearning setting, such as scores, badges etc.

I don't think gamification is the way forward, it is a buzz word that people drop out but haven't thought out the reality of what they are trying to do.

That said there is a place in courses for achievements, progression and fun, you can utilise some game style elements, but  I just do not see the future of elearning being in about gamification. a true game is about is about play and creativity, ambiguity and surprise. the key point of it all is that a game is about the unexpected.

When you look at elearning and gamification and that is is about the known, and the quantifiable inevitably we are just talking about achievements basically you are saying you are being tracked and we will give you credentials (achievements).

Gamification is a way of giving achievements and at that point it differentiates itself from games, it is not about learning but about allowing learners to collect badges along the way, we are not measuring if learning has taken place but instead giving badges.

Joshua Roberts

What is gamification?

I used to casually define gamification as “the use of game mechanics and dynamics to drive game like engagement in a non-game context.” However, after seeing the numerous implementations of gamification at this symposium, I am convinced that the use of only game mechanics/dynamics may be too restrictive. So I’d like to expand the definition a bit.

Gamification is the use of game attributes to drive game-like player behavior in a non-game context. This definition has three components:

  1. The use of game attributes,” which includes game mechanics/dynamics, game design principles, gaming psychology, player journey, game play scripts and storytelling, and/or any other aspects of games
  2. To drive game-like player behavior,” such as engagement, interaction, addiction, competition, collaboration, awareness, learning, and/or any other observed player behavior during game play
  3. In a non-game context,” which can be anything other than a game (e.g. education, work, health and fitness, community participation, civic engagement, volunteerism, etc.)

What is it not?

Anything that doesn’t fit the definition above is, by definition, not gamification. Clearly, if a strategy is not intended to drive game like player behavior, then it is not gamification, but then you probably don’t need to do anything at all. Strategies that drive game like behavior but didn’t use game attributes or it’s not used in a non-game context are also not gamification. So there can literally be millions of things that gamification is not. I’m not going to list them here, but I will point out a couple that are often confused in the industry and give some explanation.

Gamification is not a game. Primarily because the definition specifically states that gamification refers to those applications in a non-game context, where players don’t really know that they are actually playing a game. Furthermore games don’t need to be “gamified” further. It should already be driving game-like behavior (unless it is a very poorly designed game).

I like to refer to games that are created to achieve goals other than mere entertainment as serious games. Just to give a few examples, the following are all serious games:

  1. There are many educational games that teach various subjects in school through game play. As students play these games, they get practice and reinforcement with a particular concept. As a result, they learn and retain the knowledge better.
  2. Games that drive the awareness of certain issues (e.g. environmental) with the ultimate goal to change our behavior through game play
  3. Games that solves a different problem as we play the game

gamification_vs_serious_games_web.pngHowever gamification and serious games are related because both try to leverage aspects of games to achieve something more. A serious game does it through an actual game, but gamification does it through a broader set of tools (e.g. game mechanics/dynamics, game design, gaming psychology, etc.). If we take this perspective, then a serious game can be seen as a subset of gamification. However, the prior definition explicitly excludes this subset from the set of proper gamifications. That is why people are often confused between the two.

Gamification is also not the use of prizes (or other external incentives) to drive action. These are merely incentives systems. Although incentives are often used in gamification as a form of game mechanic, they do not constitute gamification by themselves, because not all incentives are good game mechanics.

Incentive systems are not new, and people have been using these techniques for hundreds of years throughout school, work, and most of our lives. For example, letter grades, salary promotion, cash bonus, etc. can be seen as a form of incentive systems. However, they are generally not considered as game attributes, because many of these incentives weren’t created with any game design principles in mind. If they are game attributes, they are terrible ones. And this is the reason why there are so many bored students at school and so many dispassionate employees in large enterprises.

http://community.lithium.com/t5/Science-of-Social-blog/What-is-Gamification-Really/ba-p/30447

Scott Hewitt

Hi Cary,

A very interesting question and some really interesting posts. Gamification is generating a lot of interesting at the moment and there is some very interesting papers and articles that you can read and research. Including the ones referenced in this post already...

For me its not just about leaderboards, badges and points - although the use can be great in the right place. Its about game theory, game design and game mechanics. You don't need to have a gamification project to use gamification. A designer can take elements from any industry, in this case games and add it to their design toolkit.

The use of game theory and game design is widespread and its not just for learners. It is targeted at consumers with large organisations using it to build customer loyalty, reward users and enhance the user/customer experience.

I've work in elearning and I've spent some time working in the games area. There is a lot that you can learn and take from both development communities. Several years ago I set up a link with our local university and its computer game design degree - we wanted to see how we could mix elearning design and computer game design. This was before gamification become the popular term it is today.

We learnt so much! We were able to discuss and consider areas like Progression, Reward, Learning to Fail, Content Immersion, Narrative Creation, Knowledge Acquisition, Level Building and so much more. We are able to discuss how the game designers use their skills and tools to build environments with sound, graphics and characters. We had game designers working on elearning projects and they brought a whole new set of ideas. We have a lot of ex-game industry professionals working on our projects and you can very easily integrate gamification into your projects without being an obvious gamification project.

I was interested to read the work of Jane McGonigal (http://janemcgonigal.com/) and James Lovell (http://www.gamesbrief.com/) to see what we could learn from their work and the models that they had developed.

Moving away slightly from the gamification elements of reward et al I've also learnt some brilliant new production techniques such as MVP - Minimum Viable Product. We've looked at the app market to see how customer acquisition models could be applied to our courses to improve the number of users using courses and repeating.

A lot of the elements within game design and game theory are being used by many instructional designers already. It offers a huge new toolkit for the learning designer which can be applied to your project....but like any project you need to make sure that you are using the right solution, ensuring that game design/gamification is right for your project and client is vital.

Harri C

Hi Cary, 

There are a lot of interesting points raised in this thread that I'm sure will help you to define your understanding of gamification. There are just a few points I'd like to add as points for consideration.

1. Gamification is a buzz word as Phil mentioned, and can also be a red light to potential clients especially if, like me, you deal in e-learning for adults in professional industries. Using phrasing such as 'use of game-like attributes/mechanics' may make discussions more fruitful.

2. Unless you can talk confidently about statistics and algorithms avoid using the term Game Theory as this is a mathematical study. If you want to talk about theories suggested by games, I'd probably use a term like Game Techniques.

3. As Dilbert illustrates very well, if you're using in module rewards they have to mean something/have some significance beyond the module. Only a certain number of people will be motivated by collecting abstract tokens.

4. Be wary of leaderboards. Depending of the type of module you're designing these could be very dangerous. Leaderboards do show who is achieving above and beyond the average - but they also flag up who is failing. Leaderboards need to be public in order to work and you probably don't want to advertise who is failing to perform at the expected standards.

Essentially, I think that gamification is a useful tool in  improving engagement, interaction, motivation etc however I think you need to be careful about when and how you use it and how to pitch it to people as a viable solution. 

Hope this helps

Bruce Graham

@Harri...

Beautifully put - and echoes my own experience in business completely.

We have to be SO careful about the terminology we use with clients - for every one that may embrace the term, or look to it for solving their own endemic training/business inadequacies, there will be another for whom it is anathema

Cary Glenn

I agree that Gamification is a buzz word. Often it seems to be worked examples and scaffolding in as scenario-based system. I tend to agree with some of what Ruth Clark has written on Gamification

I think Badges rely on Behaviourism, but the rewards are meaningless. The Dilbert cartoon is spot on. The same with leaderboards, they may motivate some people but they will also demotivate other people. It reminds of the Motivational posters that were seen in so many offices for years.

How many people will have the skills in Gamification, Instructional Design, Writing, Graphic Design, Voice-over, and Project Management that can also produce courses quickly? 

Phil Mayor

Joshua Roberts said:

Gamification may be a buzzword however all it takes is one look at the average Facebook wall to show that people engage with gamification on an entirely different level.

It's here and will be here for some time.


Hi Joshua Thanks for reposting the article from Michael Wu  in your original post, I had not read that before.  

Most gamification rewards in elearning are meaningless and poorly applied.  In games we achieve things through being skilful or through sheer persistence and their is a feeling of rewards.  I don't think that in the ideal length of an elearning course this can be effectively achieved.  This means that what we deliver is then poorly executed and badly received. 

When developing elearning we must balance the different learning styles and technical ability gamification adds an additional layer that for some is unnecessary and distracting.

There are elements of gamification that are useful but these need to be well thought out, at the moment gamification is seen as the Holy Grail, which it isn't.

(If the word ramification appears in my posts i am being autocorrects by Apple who do not acknowledge gamification )

Joshua Roberts

Phil Mayor said:

Joshua Roberts said:

Gamification may be a buzzword however all it takes is one look at the average Facebook wall to show that people engage with gamification on an entirely different level.

It's here and will be here for some time.


Hi Joshua Thanks for reposting the article from Michael Wu  in your original post, I had not read that before.  

Most gamification rewards in elearning are meaningless and poorly applied.  In games we achieve things through being skilful or through sheer persistence and their is a feeling of rewards.  I don't think that in the ideal length of an elearning course this can be effectively achieved.  This means that what we deliver is then poorly executed and badly received. 

When developing elearning we must balance the different learning styles and technical ability gamification adds an additional layer that for some is unnecessary and distracting.

There are elements of gamification that are useful but these need to be well thought out, at the moment gamification is seen as the Holy Grail, which it isn't.

(If the word ramification appears in my posts i am being autocorrects by Apple who do not acknowledge gamification )


Hello Phil, not a problem!

I absolutely understand the poor implementation of it throughout E-Learning and how those who apply it consider it merely an 'instant-win'.

I have seen very few e-learning examples that have truly inspired me as a gamer, rather humoured me slightly in the award of trophies or badges. I am and have been a gamer since I was 5 years old and some of my favourite games never had a way of representing achievements, which, did not bother me at all, merely the experience itself was the only achievement I needed. 

In the modern world we seem to place increasing emphasis on the ability to share and essentially 'brag' about our achievements, especially in a digital space. E-Learning is unfortunately lending itself to this through the application of easy badges and trophies that I consider pure bait for social media or leaderboards. 

I still however look to apply traditional gaming elements into my design as opposed to a gamified platform, in my modules I still incorporate traditional RPG style conversation choices or path selection. I believe this is where the theory lends itself to E-Learning, through the ability to create stories, pathways and options for users, unsure if it's the correct choice or where this path will take them.

But yes, I agree entirely there are a lot of lazy designers who for the sake of having a buzz-word inducing module or platform will introduce poor methods. I do seriously hope there is a life in e-learning for gamification, there certainly will be in my pieces, I just wish that people were more aware of the background of games and their structure as opposed to simply awarding people for completing a twenty minute module where the most strenuous thing you do is move your mouse to the next prompt.

My reference to Facebook previously was more in disappointment than anything else.

And kudos to you for typing that out on your iPhone, Apple lovingly crafted that same spell-checker into my Macbook and I've been battling against ramification and ramified in the time I've posted this.

Phil Mayor

Joshua, I agree with you here, the RPG style conversation/branching is a great point and Jellyvison have some great examples. We can use elements of game design, the same as we use web design elements.   I see most of the buzz about gamification is being bandied about like snake oil. A lot of designers now talk ramification, where they once talked about drag and drop and flat design.

I have stopped correcting  gamification spelling mistakes as I now discover Apple have a vendetta against it as like you I kind my Mac is doing the same thing.