For some reason, September has always felt more like a new year than January ever did. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent 20 years of my life going to school, because September really was a time of new beginnings, and January was just when you went to school in the snow.
But back to school time means millions of lucky little souls are getting ready to get their learn on, some for the first time! This got me thinking about education, games, educational games, and gamification.
Gamification is one term in particular that is gaining a lot of recent traction, with it being buzzed around some professional circles as a way to engage workers and increase productivity. But what is gamification, and does it really work in a real-world context?
There are three mains parts needed for gamification to work:
- Motivational affordance, or the game design element or mechanic being utilized
- Psychological changes, brought about by the game design
- Behavioral changes, resulting from psychological changes
Theoretically, of course, elements of gamification can and should be used as building blocks, in order to craft a motivating and rewarding experience from the ground up. Gamification isn’t an end in and of itself, but it is rather a means to motivate and reward people for completing a non-gaming task.
And this brings us to definitions. Part of being able to study the effectiveness of an intervention or the theoretical soundness of an idea is the clear identification of what that particular “thing” is. Whole journal articles have been written on just trying to define what exactly gamification is (Huotari & Hamari, 2012), and to defend the use of the word itself over alternative phrasing.*
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be using the term “gamification” as originally intended. Gamification is using game mechanics, game design techniques, and other gaming “ways of thinking” to engage people and solve problems outside of a video game experience (Deterdine et al., 201; Huotari & Hamari, 2012).
Regardless of whether a person wants to use the word “gamification” or not, the end results is that the elements of gamification can be used as the building blocks to craft an experience from the ground up, making it engaging and motivating for the participant, and therefore more likely to be completed.
Before we continue, I also want to make clear another phrase: non-gaming purpose or non-gaming goal. A gaming goal would be finding an item in-game, earning an achievement for actions taken in-game, or completing the main story quest of a game. A non-gaming goal would be using an achievement system (i.e., a game element) during a non-gaming task (e.g., when using a to-do list).
Gamification vs. Gaming
Some confusion arises with the term “gamification” because, I think, it has the word “game” in it, so it is mistaken for being a game in and of itself, rather than using elements of a game for a non-gaming purpose. So what’s the difference between gamification and gaming?
A game is a complete experience that stands on its own. It has been designed for its own purpose, and has its own context, rules, and sets of experiences and expectations.
Gamification is, instead, a sum of parts. It uses elements of game design and some characteristics of games. Gamification takes design elements from games and utilizes them in a non-game context. For instance, when you role-play in a meeting, you are technically taking part in gamification. When you use Epic Win app as a to-do list, you’ve gamified your list. When you compete with your friend or relative using a pedometer or FitBit, you’re gamifying your exercise routine.
Gamification vs. Playing
Of course, where there are games, there is play. Like with gaming, play is different than gamification. Play is a broad, loose term that often implies more freedom in actions. It can incorporate improvisation behaviors and meanings, and lack the structure generally associated with video, card, or board games.
In contrast, gamification is not improvisatory. The gamified task is planned and often has a controlled design, in order to most effectively use the game design elements to motivate and reward behaviors.
Working for “Free”
We know that the elements used in gamification are highly motivating and rewarding, because it is predominantly those elements that make video games so compelling.
To say that another way, the gamifying elements make us do work willingly and for free. After all, when we partake in a game, it is because we have, among other things:
- Agreed to the rules of the game
- Agreed to complete a difficult and arbitrary task
- Agreed to the reward system in place within the game
We usually turn off a game when we no longer agree to one of those miniature ontracts. For instance, we might feel the game has broken its own rules and is no longer fair, no longer like what the game is asking us to do, or – perhaps more relevant to gamification – the rewards are not motivating enough for us.*
The individualization of motivating factors is important. Just like how every task can’t have the same type of motivation or reward attached to it, different people are motivated by different rewards, and so that must be taken into account for optimal gamification success, as well.
This article has already gotten pretty long, and we still have quite a bit to cover! So, now that we’ve established what gamification is and some basic rules for it to be successful, I’ll pose a few questions to you to think about before part two comes around:
Do you think all tasks can be gamified? What are some potential hazards of gamifying behaviors or tasks? Do you think that gamification is a worthwhile endeavor, or does it provide too much of a “crutch” when completing tasks? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
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Deterding, S. (2012). Gamification: Designing for motivation. Forum: Social Mediator, July-August, 14-17.
Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. (2011). From game design elements to gamefulness: Defining “gamification.” MindTrek, Sept. 28-30.
Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., & Sarsa, H. (2014).Does gamification work? – A literature review of empirical studies on gamification. 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Science This slideshow could not be started. Try refreshing the page or viewing it in another browser. Huotari, K., & Hamari, J. (2012). Defining gamification – A service marketing perspective. MindTrek 2012, October 3-5, 17-22. Nicholson, S. (2012). A user-centered theoretical framework for meaningful gamification. Paper presented at Games+Learning+Society 8.0, Madison, WI.
This slideshow could not be started. Try refreshing the page or viewing it in another browser.
Huotari, K., & Hamari, J. (2012). Defining gamification – A service marketing perspective. MindTrek 2012, October 3-5, 17-22.
Nicholson, S. (2012). A user-centered theoretical framework for meaningful gamification. Paper presented at Games+Learning+Society 8.0, Madison, WI.