Gamification Application in Education

Gamification is the application of game mechanics to non-game activities. The term is said to be coined in 2002 by Nick Pelling to indicate how play can be integrated into non-play environments such as in work or at school. The concept was further developed by Chou (2014), who presented eight core motivations humans have: meaning, empowerment, social influence, unpredictability, avoidance, scarcity, ownership, and accomplishment (Karać & Stabauer, 2017). Gamification is useful due to its ability to both teach and reinforce while also encouraging problem-solving techniques, oftentimes offering collaboration opportunities.


A heart-warming application of this technology was explored by Chou where they gamify a pain journal for children who have cancer. In this example, a game is created around the pain journal where the child is inducted into the police force where the enemy is pain. The game then encourages the use of the pain diary through types of missions that the patient plays through. The following video elaborates on this story. It also presents additional information relevant to the topic being discussed.


(Chou, 2014)


Structural gamification is the application of game elements around content that has no game elements. An example of this could be gaining points for watching a video or completing a task. On the other hand, content gamification also alters the content of the information to make it more game-like. An example of this would be the cancer kids’ game where a fictional story plays out around the very real pain journal. Structural gamification would likely be more appropriate at a workplace where the mechanics around how one works become game-like, however, the work itself must remain professional and untinted of the game’s influence. A well-structured table comparing the two can be found here.


In theory, gamification has great potential to transform society from one of work to one of play (Herbert, 2018). If gamification were applied strategically to education and employment industries, the population could turn lives of monotony into lives filled with countless adventures. Ideally, each type of job would have different game mechanics, so choosing what to study is merely choosing which game a student wants to play as their career. But the question is whether such a model could succeed. Do people want to play games in their jobs, or would they rather divide work and play? Such answers will reveal themselves in time, however, maybe the generations of the future would be up for such a world.


Popular gamification techniques to motivate players include the use of points, badges, levels, leader boards, and rewards. A certain number of points can be awarded to players who perform specific actions. Badges can be used to highlight the milestones a player achieves. Levels are a method for measuring a player’s progress. Oftentimes, levels might consist of earning a certain amount of points or earning specific badges. It also might consist of finishing specific units or obtaining specific qualifications. Leader boards are used as a public scoreboard. If implemented correctly, they encourage friendly competition amongst peers. Finally, rewards offer the players something special for a job well done. These could translate into monetary items or digital gifts. Whatever the reward, make it good enough for players to want to work for.


Gamification can be applied in many creative ways. In 1979, Choose Your Own Adventure books were published. Check out there history here. These books have the reader flipping around the book depending on what choices they make during their reading. This concept was further developed by NeSmith in 2020 with This Book Is a Game.


This Book Is a Game, Instruction Manual


In this book, NeSmith gamifies the process of reading a book by applying loose role-playing game mechanics and pulling the reader directly into the game world and suggesting the types of ways that they could interact with this game world. An open world was created in thought that can then be played upon by the reader after they understand how the mechanics work. The book then encourages others to play back through writing, audio, and video.


Gamification is oftentimes used by businesses when they offer memberships and the buyer collects points and eventually can redeem those points from a selection presented. Sometimes those points can add up to dollars and one can redeem those points on a purchase. Other times, members obtain a discount either store-wide or on select items. Some types of memberships offer different levels, increasing in level after spending a certain amount. Higher levels offer better benefits for the customer. Applying this sort of system with students, their student card could become a gateway into many benefits that could be obtainable if they work hard enough. How marketing has used gamification to its own benefit demonstrates the potential for it and this provides opportunities to learn from. Its commercial application will use similar mechanics to its educational application.


Karać & Stabauer (2017) identify Chou’s eight core drives for human motivation in what is presented as the Octalysis. The top half of the octagon is what is known as white hat (positive motivations) and its bottom half, black hat (negative motivations). White hat motivations are oftentimes mechanisms that require no reward (Dicheva, 2015, p. 75). Black hat motivations usually leave a bad taste in one’s mouth like paying off a debt or having to excessively grind in order to pass a part in a game. The right half of the octagon is done through freedom and the left half done through responsibility. Below is the famous Octalysis, as presented at the beginning of this essay.


Image credit: Karać & Stabauer (2017)


Gamification is important for the development of future educational structures not because learning through games is easy, but because game based learning encourages the students to learn by themselves (See, 2016). Applying game mechanics to non-game environments will provide student involvement, engagement, motivation, and structure (Loos & Crosby, 2017) for the players to work out the puzzles on their own, alleviating direct pressure on the teachers and passing on independent learning skills to the student. Many game experiences are difficult and, depending on the game, take many tries to complete. Many games require the player to grind for many hours before being able to complete a task. All of these motivational techniques should be considered when applying game techniques onto real activities. Even a role-playing style game could be applied to a curriculum where the amount of experience points earned equates to the student’s final grade.


The modern classroom experience is disconnected from reality. Reading, watching, and listening is only part of the learning experience. Practical application is learned by doing and not reflecting upon. The reflection comes when aiming for improvement after the fact. Games and gaming models can provide active feedback as to how the player is doing, refining their skills to be improved as a result of the play. Failure in most games is tolerated, whereas in real life failure is the end of the line. In most games one can safely fail without feeling that they are going to be punished severely. As a result, they can just keep trying until they become adept at the skills they are attempting to learn in order to pass the difficult challenge. Not all games have to be fun, but fun games are important to create because if it is attractive to be played in leisure time, then the player is encouraged to play it more often and thus exercise their skills more often than mere mandatory class and homework time.


The applications of gamification are seemingly endless, only depending on the creativity of its designers. In a course structure, rewards could be given for lectures watched, modules completed, participation in groups, and assignment success. Such barebone structures of a game applied to an academic online course could prove very useful to students, especially if they could earn badges that display on their academic record. They would also prove useful for teachers in gauging how their students are faring with the content. Many businesses provide membership programs that offer rewards based on use. A similar system could be applied to academic discourse. Both effort and results could be rewarded in such model. In a gaming approach, a player should be capable of trying again until they get it right. Elaborating on this model, many businesses gamify their work with techniques such as employee of the month and a percent in-store discount. Gamification within employment, as within education, has just begun to see the light of day.


In a role-playing game, the player is rewarded when levelling up, usually giving the player points to distribute to improve the character through a skill tree. Other rewards could be something like completing a twenty-hour quest to obtain a flying mount in a game like World of Warcraft. There are many types of rewards that can be conceived of in a game, knowledge itself oftentimes being a reward if the game is structured that way. In a game this author is currently creating, the rewards for completion of the quests are chapters of audiobooks. The goal is to collect all the chapters of the audiobook. This game, Ivory Heart, is open source and developed collaboratively and any author who writes about wisdom is welcome to contribute their book if they are willing to learn how to make a quest-line in Unity for it.



The potential for effective collaboration can be built into the game, providing multiple types of social platforms in order to communicate with other players (Kingsley, et al., 2015, p. 58). Team based learning enables players to discover knowledge communicatively while also enabling the students to teach each other. Oftentimes, competition is not the answer and a more relaxed and strategical approach is required that focuses on group learning rather than individual learning, especially in a classroom environment. Utilising teamwork, the strongest in the group can help pull the weakest through. Learning the same content from multiple perspectives gives all the students listening the opportunity to understand the content in a different way.


By integrating school and work experience into what a student chooses to do in their free time, gamification has the potential to transform our society insofar as study and work could become entertaining aspects of individuals’ lives. Smart phones and games are part and parcel of modern society’s day to day activities. If those game mechanics could be applied to one’s day to day activities in which they currently dislike, then those activities could be improved with a solid gaming framework that rewarded handsomely for effort made and accomplishments achieved. To integrate these gaming experiences into the classroom is logical as games act as motivations in and of themselves. The ways of the traditional classrooms are of the past and gamification is the future (Brull & Finlayson, 2016, p. 374), if it is only employed correctly alongside other beneficial technologies, methodologies, and pedagogies for teaching.





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