Gamification, what is it? The definition of the term Gamification provided by the website Gamification Wiki is “Gamification is the concept of applying game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging.” Gamification Wiki, (2010), http://gamification.org/
The assistant director of Bloomsburg University’s acclaimed Institute for Interactive Technologies, Professor Karl M. Kapp (2012: p66) also provides a similar definition, he says “Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics, and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.”
Basically Gamification is the gamefying or application of game design theories in differing fields. To understand Gamification we need to understand what games are.
Roger Caillois a French theorist saw many of the structures in society as elaborate forms of games and much behaviour as forms of play.
Caillois proposed a useful system of classifying different types of experiences that are present in games in his book “Man, Play and Games”. A game can include just one or all of these different types of experiences.
This could be a contest or competition, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist.
This describes games of chance such as roulette or a lottery. Games of chance throughout time have often been the subject of gambling.
This can be described as copying, simulation or make believe.
This describes games in which there may be a momentary disorientation in a physical sense, for example vertigo or dizziness.
Caillois’s taxonomy of game play experiences helps us understand about types of games but why do we play games in the first place?
In 2010 I wrote a piece during my B.A Interactive Multimedia at Hull School of Art and Design, in which I describe my theory on why people play games based upon Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs:
“Why do we want to play games? Why do people get addicted to games and what makes a game addictive? It is possible to get completely immersed in a game, to the point where we are entirely focused on playing and all other things become irrelevant.
A big part of why we feel the need to participate in games can be understood by examining a psychological theory by an American psychologist named “Abraham Harold Maslow”, considered the founder of humanistic psychology he conceptualised the theory a “hierarchy of human needs”, this is often condensed and displayed for visual representation as “Maslow’s Pyramid Of Needs”.
Maslow called the lower four layers of the Pyramid “deficiency needs”. Within the deficiency needs each lower need must be met before moving on to the higher needs. If at a later time a lower need is detected, the person will take steps to fulfil that need before resuming focus on their higher needs.
These are the literal requirements for human survival; breathing, drinking, eating, sleeping, sexual activity etc. Without air or food one would die, without sexual activity as a species it would mean the extinction of humanity, this explains the strength of these instincts within individuals. This does not seem relevant to game play at first, until you consider that the whole purpose of a lot of computer games is survival, for example any game were you have a health bar that depletes is a game of survival. There are some games like ‘Resident Evil’ that directly deal with the survival of the human race as part of its storyline.
Wanting that feeling of safety and security is part of a need for control; people yearn for a predictable, orderly world without injustice and inconsistency. This can be found in any game were you control a hero or fight against a villain.
In the modern world our options in most situations are so abundant that boundaries between right and wrong are not always obvious and it is increasingly hard to judge your own actions and results in comparison to those of others. This inconsistency means that it can be complicated when deciding what we should be doing and this confusion makes it hard to gain the pleasure of knowing that we have done something well.
Games can help with these fulfilment needs, as games can be played against other people, against yourself, against a computer or perhaps even against magical forces unbeknownst to man. All games have one thing in common in that they have goals and rules to follow in order to play, so providing us with the consistency that we crave in the real world.
Social needs are the emotional needs that are fulfilled by relationships between people. Families, friendships and communities often feature within games. In some games you have a companion i.e. “Super Mario Brothers”, Mario and Luigi are both family and companions. In other games you have the ability to act as part of a team i.e. in “Marvel Ultimate Alliance” you work as part of a four man team to defend the planet. Some games require you to have social interactions within everyday family life i.e. “The Sims”.
Computer games in particular have addressed social needs in an altogether different way by creating a community in which people have found common ground with each other through a common interest.
The need for self-esteem and self-respect is also known as the belonging need, it is the human desire to be accepted and valued by others.
People need to engage themselves to get recognition as a sense of contribution; this gives the person a sense of personal value. Without this people can suffer from low self-esteem, people with low self-esteem want or need respect from others.
Game play can provide an outlet for these needs by giving people a platform that they can show off their talents through, i.e. escapism.
By playing games people can become the focus of the virtual environment, it gives them a platform on which they can get attention, status, and power.
Success in the virtual world of computer games can aid people to be competent and to achieve recognition.
The motivation to discover one’s own maximum potential and possibilities is considered to be the master motive or the only real motive in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The need for self-actualization is the final need that manifests when the lower level needs have been satisfied, this is why it sits above all other needs at the top of the pyramid.
This is possibly the easiest human need to explain why games are so popular, the need to better oneself by rising to the challenge that games present. To conquer a game or raise ones performance through practice, constantly looking to go further, faster raising confidence and fulfilling the needs of self actualization.
In a way, everything we do in our daily lives is in either a direct or an indirect way related to these needs.
The human body recognises needs and rewards, its fulfilment is often associated with feelings of pleasure to encourage repeat behaviour, i.e. when we are thirsty we drink and after doing so we feel better.
The reward process for our psychological needs is slightly different, as different people have different requirements. The person in question sets personal targets that they want to accomplish, it does not really matter what we do, how we do it, or why? As long as we feel that we are doing the right thing, for the right reasons and getting the results that we want, we will get that feeling of fulfilment.
This explains the feeling of pleasure felt by people during game play, some people may say “It’s only a game” but that depends on your psychological needs.
The ultimate goal for all our activities is the fulfilment of needs.” (Shakesby, 2010)
When you understand why people want to play games, you can identify with the level of engagement shown by people during game play, this engagement often causes people to lose their temporal concerns; they don’t eat, drink, sleep or even go to the toilet because they are truly immersed in the task at hand.
Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the hypothesis of Flow (psychology).
Csikszentmihalyi’s theory was that people get a great sense of deep happiness, satisfaction, or fulfilment when they are in a state of great concentration or complete absorption with the activity that they are immersed in and it is this feeling that he calls “flow”, popular culture often describes the psychological state as “being in the zone”. The flow state causes game players to be utterly engrossed in the undertaking or challenge at hand, this happens when there is a balance between the challenge of the task and the skill of the player, if the task is too easy or difficult the flow state cannot occur.
It is this deep sense of interest or engagement with undertakings that people hope to re-appropriate for their own interests, in other words people interested in Gamification want to create that same level of engagement and interest exhibited in tasks found in game play, into other areas through the use of game theory.
Education is one area that has exhibited an interest in Gamification, Cohen (2011: p15) explains that there is a growing movement of education professionals that would like to see the Gamification of education “The world has entered a bright new technology-driven era, yet the education system remains rooted in a gray industrial past. At least, this is the argument that a growing number of education professionals are making.”
Cohen discusses a potential idea for the restructuring of the educational system, that would see online gaming and learning replacing the traditional class room text books and he believes that this idea is gaining in popularity. I personally from my research would never advocate such a radical step but I would argue for a greater increase in interactive digital media within learning environments.
Cohen (2011: p15) explains that “While traditional education proponents may be quick to dismiss computer games as inconsequential, others argue that a strong precedent for independently motivated online game-based learning has already been established”.
One thing that we do know is that everybody is different, we all look different, sound different and learn differently, we have different needs and these needs change depending on a number of varying factors including age, experience, mood, fatigue, etc. Gamification may very well be an effective way of providing learning to some people at some times but to base an entire educational system around one theory or medium would surely be a mistake?
The paper based education system that I grew up with did not meet all my educational needs but it works for a great number of people, our education system should be able to offer learning through various mediums based upon a multitude of theories, as a broader approach that does not expect the learner to conform to its methods but actually offers the learner choices, choices that make learning easier for the individual.
It is import to point out that Gamification is not a purely digital idea; you can add game dynamics to a wide range of situations, for example if students were asked to find objects in a classroom and each object found is given a point value, the game would be a game based upon Caillois’s description of Agon, a competition. This is of course not the only way you can augment situations with game theory, Kapp (2012: p 66) says:
“A well-designed game is a system in which players engage in an abstract challenge, defined by rules, interactivity, and feedback that result in a quantifiable outcome often eliciting an emotional reaction. Games can be designed and delivered in an online environment with multimedia graphics, interactive characters, and automated scorekeeping, or they can be face-to-face and conducted in a classroom with simple interactions and engagement.”
Below is an interesting info-graphic about the Gamification of education:
This info-graphic shows a large amount of information about the positive effects of Gamification but one thing that I find particularly worrying is the Agon element of competition, the will to succeed and win is a powerful motivational factor but should education be a competition?
The motivation of winning makes certain individuals become Olympic gold medallists or sees others accomplish things faster than anybody else has done before but it is also the thing that makes other cry in despair when they fail. A gamifyed system could unintentionally create de-motivated players through fear of failure, rather than motivated players striving for success and I believe it will probably create a number of players in each camp. Surely education should be available to all, not just winners!
Kapp discusses an area of Gamification that he calls “Freedom to fail” he explains
“In most instructional environments, failure is not a valid option. Learners are objectively scored, and they either get it right the first time or fail and do not pass. Few people enjoy failing in traditional learning environments, and most will do everything they can to avoid failing. This means that most learning environments do not encourage exploration or trial-and-error learning.” (Kapp, 2012, p66)
Kapp goes on to describe how games can turn the negative effects of failure in a positive outcome:
“Games, however, encourage failure. Players will purposely fail to see what happens or to get a sense of the gamespace in which they are playing. Failing is allowed, it’s acceptable, and it’s part of the game. Games accommodate failure with multiple lives, second chances, and alternative methods of success. Games overcome the “sting of failure” by allowing, as part of their design, multiple opportunities to perform a task until mastery.” (Kapp, 2012, p66)
Kapp (2012: p66) also says that Gamification “involves encouraging learners to explore the content, take chances with their decision making, and be exposed to realistic consequences for making a wrong or poor decision”.
I am not sure that I am entirely in agreement with Kapp at this point, games can be designed to encourage failure, and multiple chances at task completion can help player’s master tasks, helping increase self esteem and putting the player on a path towards self actualisation but if the level of that task required is placed well beyond the capabilities of the play, frustration can occur leading to a lowering of self esteem and usually disinterest in the completion of the task at hand.
If the player is exposed to realistic consequences for making wrong or poor decisions it is not always a positive thing. This is why we often see kids crying when they cannot complete parts of video games, it could be argued that this is character building or is it just delivering life’s harsh message that you cannot be good at everything? This frustration can lead to emotional breakdown and user/player frustration can lead to disengagement with tasks or some players may simply choose to quit rather than repeat a task until completion.
Eliminating the risk of failure would solve this problem but there is another way, designers of games and Gamification need to be realistic when assessing task difficulty and potential player proficiency. Games need to be designed to be easy enough to accomplish tasks, whilst also being challenging enough to prevent potential boredom but the possibility of failure when used correctly can be a great tool in player engagement, Kapp (2012: p66) says:
“The risk of failure without punishment is engaging. Learners will explore and examine causes and effects if they know it’s OK to fail. In many cases, they will learn as much from seeing the consequences of their failure as they will from a correct answer.”
Gamifying a learning application would be a great way to engage the user, hopefully making it easier to effectively communicate information whilst they are engaged, it also would make the application more appealing to users, Kapp (2012, p66) explains:
“Games are incredibly appealing. They engage players because they provide an environment and a context in which actions provide direct feedback and lead to direct consequences. They can provide a realistic context in which actions and tasks can be practiced. Games create a surrogate for actual experiences that provide rich learning opportunities.”
But a gamifyed application does not need to be a game; it just needs to re-appropriate the elements from game design theory to engage the user in an interesting, informative and entertaining way.
Kapp (2012, p67) says that Gamification:
“provides the learner with an engaging, relevant learning experience without the heavy time commitment necessary to play most games. Through the careful application of game elements—such as the freedom to fail, interest curve, storytelling, and feedback—in learning programs, ordinary content can be made more engaging without the development of a full-fledged learning game”
Within my application I have a number of interactive elements that I have been describing thus far as relevant interactions, these include:
Barter (Trade) a Viking Comb
In this section the user chooses the amount of coins needed to trade for a Viking comb, the user has the freedom to fail by choosing the wrong amount of coins but they are able to make another choice until the correct choice is made. Using Caillois classifications it is fair to say this is a game that shows Mimicry, it is a virtual representation of a historic process, a simulation from which the user will hopefully learn the process and the tools involved in a Viking trade transaction.
This interactive features an archaeologist who invites the user to help him find a Viking ship, the user has to choose from one of four archaeological dig sites, they then rub away an onscreen layer of virtual soil, to unearth an artefact in the hope that it is the Viking ship they have been tasked with finding. If the user does not find the ship they can go back and choose another dig site until they complete their task.
It is possible to argue that this is a game that exhibits elements of Alea, as the choice is a bit like a lottery, it is a game of chance but it is also once again Mimicry as it is a very basic simulation of an archaeological process.
Decorate a Viking Shield
This part of my application allows the user to paint a Viking Shield, as a digital recreation of a process that many Vikings undertook. Again Caillois classifications would place this interactive in the category of Mimicry.
Control a Viking boat
This interactive element is an Easter egg within the game. a hidden piece of fun that can be played when inquisitive users find it.
The task for the user within this part of my application is to control a Viking ship, manoeuvring it from one point to another whilst avoiding the sea serpents. Caillois classifications make this game an example of Agon, as the user is the protagonist trying to successfully navigate a course without interaction with the sea serpent antagonists.
Some may argue that there is a lack of reward system within these interactive elements, for them to be considered as games or examples of Gamification whether it is a points system, levelling up or some other prize. In fact it has been said directly to me by my external examiner that my application is not an example of Gamification and I agree that my application is not a game, it is in my opinion an interactive learning application that features elements of game theory amongst others. My application does however definitely fit into a broader category that encompasses Gamification, as described below:
“Firstly, “Gamification” relates to games, not play (or playfulness), where “play” can be conceived of as the broader, looser category, containing but different from “games”” Deterding,et al (2011: p3)
Play is essential in child development, family counsellor and parent educator Helen R Williams explains:
“Children boost self esteem through play. While they play, children are developing an understanding of themselves and others, increasing their mastery and knowledge of their physical world and learning to communicate with others. Play is essential to children’s development by contributing to their physical, social, cognitive and emotional well being.” Williams, H. R. no publication date, http://ezinearticles.com/?How-to-Boost-Self-Esteem-Through-Play&id=1028608
Caillois described the difference between games – ludus (or “gaming”) and play – paidia (or “playing”) Deterding,et al (2011: p3) says:
“In game studies, this distinction between games and play is usually tied back to Caillois’ concept of paidia and ludus as two poles of play activities . Whereas paidia (or “playing”) denotes a more freeform, expressive, improvisational, even “tumultuous” recombination of behaviors and meanings, ludus (or “gaming”) captures playing structured by rules and competitive strife toward goals.”
According to this definition the majority of my interactive elements do not qualify as games, although I could argue that the Archaeologist game and the Control a Viking boat could be classified as games.
The distinction between games and play is there but it is ambiguous to the uninitiated. Korhonen, Montola and Arrasvuori tried to define playfulness by creating the PLEX framework, Deterding,et al (2011: p2) describes:
“Korhonen, Montola and Arrasvuori have made the most systematic attempt in this regard [43,44]. Combining the “pleasurable experience” framework of Costello and Edmonds  with further theoretical work and user studies on video game play, they developed a Playful Experience Framework (PLEX) that categorizes 22 (originally 20) playful experiences.”
Deterding,et al also tells that recently others have investigated and found evidence to support the clear differences between “playing” and “gaming” :
“Recent theoretical and empirical studies have provided further support for the distinctness of “playing” and “gaming” as two modes, foci, or “values” of behavior and mindset2 encountered during video game play [4,41]. This distinction also appears in HCI research on playfulness. The aforementioned PLEX framework acknowledges Caillois’ distinction of paidia and ludus in that it explicitly sets out to capture all experiences between these two poles .” Deterding,et al (2011: p3)
My application definitely features elements of playfulness, the Barter (Trade) a Viking Comb and Decorate a Viking Shield interactives are playful elements. I do not consider my application to be an example of Gamification but it does exhibit some of the qualities of Gamification, it also exhibits elements of playful design, Deterding,et al (2011: p3) describe why my application cannot be considered as an example of Gamification:
“In terms of defining “gamification”, this means that it too has to be analytically distinguished from playfulness or playful design – indeed, this marks the novelty of “gamified” applications. In practice, it can be assumed that they often can and will give rise to playful behaviors and mindsets as well, just as video game players often switch between playful and gameful behaviors and mindsets during play .”
The quote above explains that users can switch between the behaviours and mind sets that define games and play during these activities, which is good for my application, as I believe it exhibits elements of both Gamification and playfulness and hopefully these elements that feature within my application will help engage the users of my application. The evidence above suggests that Gamification and playfulness are different but both essential to child engagement and development, and by adopting elements of these theories alongside other theories of information communication, I hope to be able to develop an application that is engaging, entertaining and informative.
Caillois, R. (2001) Man, Play and Games, USA: University of Illinois Press
Cohen, AM 2011, The Gamification of Education, Futurist, Volume 45, Issue 5, pp. 16-17, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 10 March 2013.
Kapp, K M. (2012), GAMES, GAMIFICATION, AND THE QUEST FOR LEARNER ENGAGEMENT, T+D, Vol 66, Issue 6, pp. 64-68, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 10 March 2013.
About.com Psychology, no publication date, Abraham Maslow, [online] Available at: http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/ig/Pictures-of-Psychologists/Abraham-Maslow-Picture.htm [accessed 09th March 2013]
Deterding, S. Dixon,D. Khaled, R. & Nacke, L. (2011) From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining “Gamification” [online] Available at: http://220.127.116.11/niklas/bach/MindTrek_Gamification_PrinterReady_110806_SDE_accepted_LEN_changes_1.pdf, [accessed 10th March 2013]
Edudemic, (2012), The 100 Second Guide to Gamification In Education, [online] Available at: http://edudemic.com/2012/09/the-100-second-guide-to-gamification-in-education/, [accessed 09th March 2013]
Gamification Corp. (2012) [online] Available at: http://www.gamification.co/. [accessed 10th March 2013]
Gamification Wiki, (2010), [online] Available at: http://gamification.org/, [accessed 10th March 2013]
Williams, H. R. no publication date, How to Boost Self Esteem Through Play, [online] Available at: http://ezinearticles.com/?How-to-Boost-Self-Esteem-Through-Play&id=1028608, [accessed 11th March 2013]