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This page was edited by Sarah Plaisted Neal (Winter 2014).

This page originally created by Ryan Layton and Claude D'Souza (Winter 2013).

Gamification is the implementation of game-based thinking or game mechanics in order to engage users and solve problems (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011).[1] Instead of creating full games, gamification’s guiding idea is to use elements of game design in non-game contexts, products, and services to motivate desired behaviors (Deterding, 2012).[2]

General Comments

Prensky (2001, p. 106) lists several attributes of gaming that have an application in gamification:[3]

  1. Games are a form of fun. That gives us enjoyment and pleasure.
  2. Games are a form of play. That gives us intense and passionate involvement.
  3. Games have rules. That gives us structure.
  4. Games have goals. That gives us motivation.
  5. Games have outcomes and feedback. That gives us learning.
  6. Games are adaptive. That gives us flow.
  7. Games have problem solving. That sparks our creativity.
  8. Games have interaction. That gives us social groups.
  9. Games have representation and story. That gives us emotion.

Curiosity, imagination, and a sense of play—three aspects integral to learning—are largely missing from the traditional textbook-and-test based education system (Aaron, 2011).[4] Aaron states that in the social gaming world, “learning happens on a continuous basis because the participants are internally motivated to find, share, and filter new information on a near-constant basis”. Unlike midterms and final exams, games associate learning with fun and allow for trial and error (basically, the freedom to make mistakes). They can also encourage exploration, collaboration, and the exchange of ideas while removing unwanted pressures that can interfere with students’ abilities. Well designed games encourage reading and looking up information on websites wikis, blogs, for information on completing tasks/quests.

"It is estimated that by 2015, more than 50% that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes" (Gartner, 2011).[5]


According to Herodotus' Histories, the first game was developed approximately three thousand years ago, not as a source of entertainment, but rather a distraction for the people who lived in Asia Minor under the rule of King Atys. At this time, a great famine afflicted the inhabitants. To cope with the severe dearth, the King devised a strategy of eating one day and playing games the next, diverting the peoples' attention away from the problems at hand (McGonigal, 2011).[6]

Games and game theory have continued to permeate many different aspects of society. One organization that has used gamified theory for more than 100 years is the Scouting program. Children of all ages gain specific skills related to survival and development of positive attributes, rewarded with badges after demonstrating mastery of each domain (Scouts Canada, n.d.). [7]

The term gamification was first coined in 2002 by Nick Pelling and has become popularized only over the past several years (Marczewski, 2012).[8] Gamification is a relatively new concept rapidly gaining tread in both the world of marketing and education. This coupling makes sense; the capitalistic paradigm is the framework for the commercially packaged youth culture that permeates the life of a North American adolescent (Bloom, 1982).[9] Today's educators must, in essence, transpose the commercial paradigm. They must entice learners, mimicking dynamics between the commercial world and its target demographics in order to motivate the apathetic learner. A well-designed game can trigger long-term buy-in from its players. In other words, gamification is an external framework designed to stimulate and maintain intrinsic motivation. Recent, highly successful projects such as I Love Bees and Year Zero, both alternate reality games and viral marketing campaigns for a video game and a rock album, respectively, exemplify intense public interest in marrying game elements into other contexts.

Important Distinctions

It is important to note differences between using games in curricula and gamification of curriculum. Indeed, there is a great deal of research addressing the effectiveness of using games in teaching situations. Drawing on definitions from Simoes, Diaz Redondo, & Fernandez Villas (2013) [10]to define different classes of games establishes some important contrasts.

Off the Shelf Games (OTSG), such as Monopoly, are created for entertainment purposes and may have unintended educational value. Examples include Monopoly, which could be used in an accounting course, and Risk, which could be used in a history course. Serious Games differ from OTSGs; whilst entertaining, Serious Games are specifically crafted with learning in mind. Nanomission, for example, was created to teach players about the nanomedicine, includes four downloadable modules, and is overseen by a board of scientists. Gamification evolves beyond the game by literally extracting the mechanics from game play one would encounter in OTSGs and Serious Games, embedding them within a new environment.

Importance of Flow

Figure 1: Importance of flow in game design[11]

Paras & Bizzocchi (2005)[12] state that the story is a powerful means of communication. They highlight flow as a particularly interesting matter when it comes to gaming and education, which is explained as the condition of being immersed in an action for its own sake. Paras & Bizzocchi believe that the best part of one achieving this state of flow is that he/she fully engages in the game, thus being completely involved in the learning. They express the potential of learning from games in Figure 1.

According to Paras & Bizzochi (2005), games encourage play, which in turn creates the condition of flow, which then increases motivation, thus supporting the process of learning. They believe that if the mechanics of the game are designed effectively, this would result in educational experiences that are intrinsically driven. The combination of putting together meaningful stories with meaning and adding mastery would, in their mind, increase the likelihood of the learner finding their game flow.

"Described simply, flow is an optimal experience resulting in intense engagement, heightened motivation, receptiveness to information, and diminished perception of time" (Pavlas, 2010, p.14).[13]

Flow, as depicted in figure 1, highlights the importance of high levels of challenge and high levels of skill that are needed in order to attain this immersive state.

Examples of Gamification

Figure 2: Foldit developed by the University of Washington

Examples of gamification have permeated various domains including commerce, health and fitness and location-based services. In 2010, Nike introduced the Nike+ product line. As individuals perform physical activity, sensors in shoes, mobile devices, and watches measure the levels of activity and convert this into a score. "Players" try to attain an established daily goal. If the goal is met or surpassed animations and achievements are placed on their corresponding accounts which indicate his or her progress. If goals are not met, players' screens encourage him or her to do better in the future (Nike, n.d.).[14]

Gamified learning has also provided some very positive real world results. The University of Washington has developed a computer game entitled Foldit(see figure 2). This program allows the manipulation of proteins and amino acids in order to better understand the basic building blocks of life and disease. In 2011, a puzzle was posted on the Foldit site. This enigma challenged players to find the structure of an AIDS-causing monkey virus. The players solved this riddle in 10 days, which had remained unsolved for the previous 15 years (Gray, 2011).[15] The gamified aspect of this software has garnered much interest and continues to be a strong tool with a current goal to discover the causes of Sepsis.

Gamification has become increasingly more prevalent in Education. The Khan Academy[16] is a website where students can sign up for accounts and receive instruction on a wide variety of subjects (Slavitt, n.d.). Students are presented with a wide variety of information about what has been accomplished in the form of graphs and achievements. Students are also able to view their learning in the form of a knowledge map, figure 3, which indicates what they have completed and what they need to compete in the future to advance their understanding. This approach to the mapping of skills is a popular tool with many video games, including the more recent Path of Exile (Grinding Gear Games, n.d.)[17]. This tree, seen in part in figure 4, allows the same interactivity and displays how skills progress as one makes their way through the content of the game.

Figure 3: Example of Knowledge tree from Khan Academy
Figure 4: Example of skill tree from the game Path of Exile

In addition to schools adopting gamification by adopting online learning programs such as Khan Academy, some schools are actually transforming the way they design their entire curriculum to support gamification. A New York city public school, Quest to Learn, is a partnership between the Department of Education and a non-profit organisation called the Institute of Play. The mission of this innovative school is to design a unique learning program that promotes student engagement in the service of education (Salen, n.d.). [18] At this school, game designers and curriculum developers form the institute are actively involved with the students, and also work closely with the teachers. The assessment is not only based on the state standards and the common core curriculum, but also include competencies that cover critical 21st century skills, such as collaboration and empathy. Salen believes that attainment of these important skills will lead to success in the workforce. This gamified model of education, if proven to significantly increase both student engagement and learning, could transform the way curriculum is designed and taught in North American schools.

Examples of Game Mechanics

Game mechanics can be defined as "methods invoked by agents for interacting with the game world" (Sicart, 2008).[19] Popular game mechanics include:

Badges: a specific type of achievement players can collect and display to show mastery of a skill or outstanding accomplishments. For example, Scouts or Brownies programs and popular applications like Badgeville and FourSquare use badges.

Leveling Up: the experience of beginning a game at the lowest level and demonstrating skill to progress to more challenging levels. For example, the popular arcade game Pacman, players begin at level 1 and as they complete each level, the obstacles (monsters) increase in speed posing more difficulty.

Leader Boards: updated frequently, these public displays keep track of certain diagnostics, such as the players with the most XP overall or in specific “quests.” For example, the popular application “Real Racing” is an online game where players race in asynchronous time and log high speeds on a global leader board.

Experience Points (XP): in the world of games, these are usually subdivided into differently types, but for the purpose of this action research, XP refers to points granted for completing an activity (quest) or demonstrating a skill.

Impact on Instructional Design and Assessment

Several researchers and educators have focussed on the need to update curricular design responsively for the needs of the 21st century learner. Without a curriculum framework, planning for and measuring gamified success is difficult, if not impossible (de Byl, 2012). Perhaps because gamification is relatively new in the educational sphere, several researchers have noted the lack of and need for a curricular framework but currently their research is in progress, or, is noted for their further study (de Byl, 2012; Simoes et al., 2013). [20] [21] It is clear, however, that initial research demonstrates embedding game mechanics into curriculum for student success is effective and should be considered significant as it holds promise to be a cornerstone in educational design (de Byl, 2012; Simoes et al., 2013; Kapp, 2012). [22] [23] [24]

Broader ideological issues that surround how assessment is implemented in curricular design are important to consider. Since game mechanics can be used to directly support assessment for learning, this line of thought should be considered carefully. Practices such as refusing to accept late work, assigning zeros, and disallowing students to redo work do not teach accountability. Rather, we should focus on assessment for learning: using assessment opportunities to provide formative feedback prior to evaluation (Wiliam, Lee, Harrison & Black, 2004). [25] While this is a philosophy that the Ontario Ministry of Education in Canada has adopted, revised and continues to implement (Ontario, 2010),[26] it is a challenging task to turn policy into practice and design formative assessments that provide meaningful feedback to support student progress and success (Wiliam et al., 2004). [27]

Feedback in games is continuous and instant, guides the player to correct a wrong move and/or affirms they chose the right move, but does not tell a player exactly what to do (Kapp, 2012).[28] Several best practices and design considerations have been identified to support the educator’s quest to embed game mechanics in their curriculum to mirror this ongoing feedback loop (Kapp, 2012; Sheldon, 2011).[29] [30] Game mechanics must be skillfully integrated into the instructional design process for meaningful learning to take place. When skillfully executed, gamification and assessment go hand-in-hand (Kapp, 2012).[31]

Proponents of Gamification

Game designer and author Jane McGonigal (2011) asserts that reality is generally very unsatisfying for most people, and that many people are finding happiness more and more in game environments. Her main argument in a recent book suggests that game elements could be used to make more ‘real world’ activities, such as work and education, engaging and motivating.

The following is a link to a TED talk by Jane McGonigal related to the importance of gaming in our lives: Jane McGonigal TED Talk

Neurologist and educator Dr. Judy Willis (2011) claims that video game models as learning tools are effective because students receive intrinsic reinforcement in the form of dopamine surges after progressing to the next level. This natural motivator is only available when the learner is at an individualized achievable challenge level, where a task, action, or choice is neither guaranteed to succeed nor fail[32]

Gamification has also been supported in research recently conducted using participants attending Major Incident Medical Management and Support (MIMMS) courses in the United Kingdom.[33] Knight, Carly, Tregunna, Jarvis, Smithies, de Freitas, Mackway-Jones, & Dunwell (2010) concluded that serious gaming technology is useful for teaching major incident triage, improves the accuracy of the triage process, and may play an important role in future education in this field.

Arguments against Gamification

Gamification has drawn the ire of game designers, who argue that the current stock implementation of gamification—adding points, badges, and leaderboards to mundane user activities—is “taking the thing that is least essential to games and representing it as the core of the experience" (Deterding, 2012, p.14).

One potentially large drawback is that addiction to game play is engineered into the games themselves, according to Scot Osterweil, research director of MIT’s Education Arcade, which develops (and advocates for) educational games. Parents may want their children to study calculus every night, but they may become concerned if that practice were to become habit-forming, Osterweil noted during a panel on gaming and education at South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) in March 2011 (Aaron, 2011).

Game related statistics and facts

Figure 5: Gamification Infographic[34]

In order to demonstrate the potential for the use of games, Kai Erenli (2013, p. 16-17)[35] shares the following statistics:

  • Not only "youngsters" play games
    • Average age of gamers: 37 years (they also have been playing for an average of 12 years).
    • Average age of most frequent game purchasers: 41 years.
    • Percentage of youth playing computer & video games: 97%.
    • Percentage of gamers older than fifty (2011): 29% (a significant increase from 9% in 1999); this figure is certain to rise in coming years with nursing homes and senior centers across the USA now incorporating video games into their activities.
  • Games have already "invaded" people’s homes
    • 77% of American households own videogames.
    • 68% of parents believe that playing games provides mental stimulation or education, 57% believe games encourage their family to spend time together, and 54% believe that playing games helps their children connect with their friends.
    • Percentage of female gamers: 42%. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population(37%) than boys age 17 or younger (13%).
    • Percentage of gamers who play games with other gamers in person: 65%.
  • Gadgets have undergone a process of "smartization"
    • 55% of gamers play games on their phones or mobile devices.
    • 2,600,000 games are downloaded each year in Germany.
    • Revenues of mobile games have increased by 40% in 2012.
  • Games are addictive
    • Gamers have collectively spent 5.93 million years playing World of Warcraft.
    • Time spent gaming per day in the US: 215,000,000 hours.
    • Highest proportion of active gamers by country in percentage of the population:
      • Germany: 66%
      • Mexico: 57%
      • Russia: 53%
      • UK: 52%
      • Brazil: 47%
      • USA: 42%
    • China has the largest number of gamers.
  • Games are of value
    • In 2011, gamers in Germany spent EUR 380,000,000 on virtual items and services.
    • The revenues of the gaming industry in the US are estimated to be beyond US$ 22,000,000,000.
  • Games are already present at the workplace
    • 46.6% of the German employees surveyed play games during working hours: 10.0% do so daily, 15.5% several times a week, 7.0% once a week, 3.6% once a month, and 10.6% less than once a month.
    • 61% of the CEOs and CFOs surveyed play games during their working hours.

Additional information related to gamification and its development are depicted in figure 5.

Implications for Educators

According to Dr. Willis (2011), the game model encourages course design using achievable, incremental challenge, with goal-progress recognition. Scaffolding can allow teachers to provide their students with cues, hints, and partial solutions to keep them progressing and motivated.[36] Simões, Díaz & Fernández's (2013)[37] developed a social gamification framework to be used with, a social learning environment and LMS. This facilitates instructors' selection of suitable social gamification tools, based on social games’ affordances. These authors also present a synopsis where game mechanics can be integrated using a points reward system.

De Castell & Jensen (2003) believe that in order to create a sustainable educational gaming culture, we must embark on "a game design project by asking not how we can include extrinsic educational components which we then force players to complete in order to advance in the game but by asking how we can devise educative components that immerse students in the least pedantic, the most demanding, and the most engaging forms of intelligent participation in fields and forms of human endeavour" (p. 662).[38]

In The Gamification of Learning and Instruction[39](2012), Karl M. Kapp, professor of Instructional Technology at Bloomberg University indicates that the following types of knowledge should be taught in very specific gamified ways in order to increase retention:

Type of Knowledge Strategy
Declarative knowledge Should be taught through a re-playable story where the information is learned as part of a context or/and played in a trivia game format against other players in real life or against Artificial(A.I) opponents
Concept knowledge Should be taught through a matching and sorting activity while experiencing the concept; also being able to see and recognize examples and non-examples within the context
Rule-based knowledge Learner should see/experience consequences of now following guidelines, in the format of a board game(or other game) where rules must be learned
Procedural knowledge Learner should overcome a challenge, in different settings by following procedure under a higher difficulty level
Soft skills Through difficult to follow guidelines, learners should be able to apply their knowledge in multiple sequences and experience the outcomes of their choice
Affective knowledge Learners are immersed in the value system and are able to achieve success in the lesson/game related to the affective element of choice; thye are also able to hear and/or interact with individuals of notoriety from within or without the environment
Psychomotor knowledge Learners should have the opportunity to observe other characters in the game performing the desired psychomotor activity, then practice it themselves; learners should also receive haptic/tactile feedback during the activity

Furthermore, James Paul Gee (2003)[40] identified 36 Learning Principles which both determines what comprises a quality game and asserts players undertake these principles as they play. In a comparison of Gardiner's Multiple Intelligences with Gee's 36 Learning Principles, "the analysis reveals that three major principles of good games (risk taking, customization, and agency) match all types of intelligences. These learning principles should be included on all game designs…The learner should be in control of the game. The customization learning principle allows learners to choose how to learn, the risk-taking principle allows learners to choose when to take risks, and the agency-learning principle further supports learner control" (Kong, Masaki, Ackerman, Borengasser, & Leong, 2010).[41]

Gee's 36 Learning Principles:

1) Active, Critical Learning Principle All aspects of the learning environment (including ways in which the semiotic domain is designed and presented) are set up to encourage active and critical, not passive, learning

2) Design Principle Learning about and coming to appreciate design and design principles is core to the leaning experience

3) Semiotic Principle Learning about and coming to appreciate interrelations within and across multiple sign systems (images, words, actions, symbols, artifacts, etc.) as a complex system is core to the learning experience

4) Semiotic Domains Principle Leaning involves mastering, at some level, semiotic domains, and being able to participate, at some level, in the affinity group or groups connected to them.

5) Meta-level thinking about Semiotic Domain Principle Learning involves active and critical thinking about the relationships of the semiotic domain being learned to other semiotic domains

6) "Psychosocial Moratorium" Principle Learners can take risks in a space where real-world consequences are lowered

7) Committed Learning Principle Learners participate in an extended engagement (lots of effort and practice) as an extension of their real-world identities in relation to a virtual identity to which they feel some commitment and a virtual world that they find compelling

8) Identity Principle Learning involves taking on and playing with identities in such a way that the learner has real choices (in developing the virtual identity) and ample opportunity to meditate on the relationship between new identities and old ones. There is a tripartite play of identities as learners relate, and reflect on, their multiple real-world identities, a virtual identity, and a projective identity

9) Self-Knowledge Principle The virtual world is constructed in such a way that learners learn not only about the domain but also about themselves and their current and potential capacities

10) Amplification of Input Principle For a little input, learners get a lot of output

11) Achievement Principle For learners of all levels of skill there are intrinsic rewards from the beginning, customized to each learner's level, effort, and growing mastery and signaling the learner's ongoing achievements

12) Practice Principle Learners get lots and lots of practice in a context where the practice is not boring (i.e. in a virtual world that is compelling to learners on their own terms and where the learners experience ongoing success). They spend lots of time on task.

13) Ongoing Learning Principle The distinction between the learner and the master is vague, since learners, thanks to the operation of the "regime of competency" principle listed next, must, at higher and higher levels, undo their routinized mastery to adapt to new or changed conditions. There are cycles of new learning, automatization, undoing automatization, and new re-organized automatization

14) "Regime of Competence" Principle The learner gets ample opportunity to operate within, but at the outer edge of, his or her resources, so that at those points things are felt as challenging but not "Undoable"

15) Probing Principle Learning is a cycle of probing the world (doing something); reflecting in and on this action and, on this basis, forming a hypothesis; reprobing the world to test this hypothesis; and then accepting or rethinking the hypothesis

16) Multiple Routes Principle There are multiple ways to make progress or move ahead. This allows learners to make choices, rely on their own strengths and styles of learning and problem-solving, while also exploring alternative styles

17) Situated Meaning Principle The meanings of signs (words, actions, objects, artifacts, symbols, texts, etc.) are situated in embodied experience. Meanings are not general or decontextualized. Whatever generality meanings come to have is discovered bottom up cia embodied experience

18) Text Principle Texts are not understood purely verbally (i.e. only in terms of the definitions of the words in the text and their text-internal relationships to each other) but are understood in terms of embodied experience. Learners move back and forth between texts and embodied experiences. More purely verbal understanding (reading texts apart from embodied action) comes only when learners have enough embodied experience in the domain and ample experiences with similar texts

19) Intertextual Principle The learner understands texts as a family ("genre") of related texts and understands any one text in relation to others in the family, but only after having achieved embodied understandings of some texts. Understanding a group of texts as a family ("genre") of texts is a large part of what helps the learner to make sense of texts

20) Multimodal Principle Meaning and knowledge ate built up through various modalities (images, texts, symbols, interactions, abstract design, sound, etc.), not just words

21) "Material Intelligence" Principle Thinking, problem-solving and knowledge are "stored" in material objects and the environment. This frees learners to engage their minds with other things while combining the results of their own thinking with the knowledge stored in material objects and the environment to achieve yet more powerful effects

22) Intuitive Knowledge Principle Intuitive or tacit knowledge built up in repeated practice and experience, often in association with an affinity group, counts a good deal and is honored. Not just verbal and conscious knowledge is rewarded

23) Subset Principle Learning even at its start takes place in a (simplified) subset of the real domain

24) Incremental Principle Learning situations are ordered in the early stages so that earlier cases lead to generalizations that are fruitful for later cases. When learners face more complex cases later, the learning space (the number and type of guess the learner can make) is constrained by the sorts of fruitful patterns or generalizations the learned has founded earlier

25) Concentrated Sample Principle The learner sees, especially early on, many more instances of the fundamental signs and actions than should be the case in a less controlled sample. fundamental signs and actions are concentrated in the early stages so that learners get to practice them often and learn them well

26) Bottom-up Basic Skills Principle Basic skills are not learned in isolation or out of context; rather, what counts as a basic skill is discovered bottom up by engaging in more and more of the game/domain or games/domains like it. Basic skills are genre elements of a given type of game/domain

27) Explicit Information On-Demand and Just-in-Time Principle The learner is given explicit information both on-demand and just-in-time, when the learner needs it or just at the point where the information can best be understood and used in practice

28) Discovery Principle Overt telling is kept to a well-thought-out minimum, allowing ample opportunities for the learner to experiment and make discoveries

29) Transfer Principle Learners are given ample opportunity to practice, and support for, transferring what they have learned earlier to later problems, including problems that require adapting and transforming that earlier learning

30) Cultural Models about the World Principle Learning is set up in such a way that learners come to think consciously and reflectively about some of their cultural models regarding the world, without denigration of their identities, abilities or social affiliations, and juxtapose them to new models that may conflict with or otherwise relate to them in various ways

31) Cultural Models about Learning Principle Learning is set up in such a way that learners come to think consciously and reflectively about their cultural models about learning and themselves as learners, without denigration of their identities, abilities, or social affiliations, and juxtapose them to new models of learning and themselves as learners

32) Cultural Models about Semiotic Domains Principle about their cultural models about a particular semiotic domain they are learning, without denigration of their identities, abilities, or social affiliations, and juxtapose them to new models about this domain

33) Distributed Principle Meaning/knowledge is distributed across the learner, objects, tools, symbols, technologies, and the environment

34) Dispersed Principle Meaning/knowledge is dispersed in the sense that the learner shares it with others outside the domain/game, some of whom the learner may rarely or never see face-to-face

35) Affinity Group Principle Learners constitute an "affinity group," that is, a group that is bonded primarily through shared en devours, goals, and practices and not shared race, gender, nation, ethnicity, or culture

36) Insider Principle The learner is an "insider," "teacher," and "producer" (not just a consumer) able to customize the learning experience and the domain/game from the beginning and throughout the experience.

Stop Motion

An explanation of Gamification in a stop motion video

Chava Kassierer ETEC 510 65C Stop Motion on Gamification

Sam Zimmer's Gamification & Assessment Stop Motion.

Zarah Mathai's Wiki Artifact:ETEC 510 65C Stop Motion on Gamification

See Also


Video games

Digital Game-Based Learning



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  3. Prensky, M (2001) Digital Games Based Learning. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
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