Gamification Application in Education



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.



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 & Grabner-Hagen, 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.





Brull, S. & Finlayson, S. (2016). Importance of Gamification in Increasing Learning. Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 47(8), 372–375. doi:10.3928/00220124-20160715-09

Choose Your Own Adventure (2020, May 21). History of CYOA.

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Dicheva, D., et al. (2015). Gamification in Education: A Systematic Mapping Study. Educational Technology & Society, 18 (3), 75–88.

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Kingsley, T. & Grabner-Hagen, M. (2015). Gamification: Questing to Integrate Content Knowledge, Literacy, and 21st-Century Learning. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 59(1), doi:10.1002/jaal.426

Loos, L. A. & Crosby, M. E. (2017). Gamification methods in higher education. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 10295, 474-486.

NeSmith, W. C. (2020). This Book Is a Game. Open Source University.

Sanal, A. (2019). Content Gamification Vs Structured Gamification In E-Learning. XL Pro.

See, C. (2016). Gamification in Higher Education | Christopher See | TEDxCUHK. YouTube.







Education and the Future of Gamification


As technology rapidly develops around us, society slowly catches up with its changes. Gaming has altered the way people live their lives and almost everybody these days are a gamer of some sort. However, the barrier between gaming and education has not yet been crossed. Commercial off the shelf (COTS) games reign supreme in the gaming world and no canonical list of games for education yet exists. Games are already thriving in their ability to tell stories. The gap between these stories being for entertainment rather than educational purposes will be filled in time. The divide between entertainment and education is blurring as pieces of entertainment serve vital educational purposes. And although some are sceptical of games-based learning, a number of studies have shown that the majority of K-12 educators adopt a positive attitude towards the use of games in the education process (Watson & Yang, 2016, p. 155).

Gamification is the application of gaming mechanics to non-gaming situations and environments. The power of gaming does not have to be limited to entertainment structures. Gaming gives players motivation in and of itself (See, 2016). A system of points, badges, levels, leader boards, and rewards can be instated. The content can be adapted to fit the game mechanics, or the content can be left free of the game’s influence. If the content is manipulated, this is what is known as content gamification. However, if the content is not modified yet the structures around the content are gamified, this is what is known as structural gamification. A professional workplace would likely want their work free of influence of the game so they would build the game around the content. Whereas a school’s agenda is to teach content using total immersion, so manipulating the content to fit the game, would be of most benefit.

However, many educators are very hesitant to integrate games into the classroom, much less gamify their study behaviours. Resistance to new ways of interactive learning is apparent in the industry and many still advocate for the sit and learn pedagogy (Gee, 2014, Chapter 8, para. 4). Many models of gamification have been presented since it was coined 2002, yet our education canon has not yet run with it. The mentality of the past that students are not learning if they are having fun is outdated. Children learn through play and there is no evidence to suggest that they stop learning through play after reaching a certain age. The average age of a game player is 30 (Entertainment Software Association, 2013). This indicates that the power of play reaches far beyond childhood.

The process of gamifying books was first attempted in 1979 with the Choose Your Own Adventure series (CYOA, 2020). Recently, this author has attempted to make a role-playing game through a book called This Book Is a Game (NeSmith, 2020). Since 2012, this author has also attempted to turn his video work into a massive multiplayer online game. Gaming can be applied to seemingly any framework and this enables boring information to be presented and passed on in fun and interesting ways. If a book or a series of videos can be a game, then why can’t school be a game?

If such theory could be realised and implemented into our educational canonical framework, society would transform as the way education is viewed and as a result, employment changes. Lives of monotony can be avoided, and lives of adventures can be encouraged. People could not only study what they love most in this world but also work in that field. Education and employment would no longer be a chore but instead, a passion. If such theory could be actualised then the world would quickly change as education and employment become projects of passion instead of projects of duty and wealth.

Many studies have been conducted on gamification, however, one that stands out is the work of Chou. In his TED Talk (Chou, 2014), he presented a case where pain journals for children with cancer where gamified. The child is initiated into a police force where the enemy is pain. Through missions and active use of the pain journal, the child progress through a storyline where they rank up as they go. Such brilliant usage of gamification clearly outlines its potential applications in a range of different situations.

It has been identified that many modern-day schools face problems around student motivation and engagement (Dicheva, D., et al, 2015, p. 75). Chou presented eight core human motivations: meaning, empowerment, social influence, unpredictability, avoidance, scarcity, ownership, and accomplishment (Karać & Stabauer, 2017). Some are positive motivations while others, negative. Some, the player desires to take action because of its enjoyable nature and others motivate them through a reward or responsibility. Games move around between these eight motivations in order to lead the player to the next step.

Marketing has quickly and strategically employed methods of gamification through the use of memberships which give the players points to redeem, discounts on products, or maybe a free birthday gift. EB Games Australia offers a membership which has levels which are escalated by earning a certain amount of carrots which are earned from purchasing games. Every Christmas, bonus carrots are gifted and sometimes pre-orders also give bonus carrots. This approach to gamification of business has been adopted by many businesses, offering worthwhile incentives for shopping loyalty.

Potential for collaboration with other players is important, both in and out of game. Students need the opportunity to interact with others about their experiences and that is best done by building it into the gamified structure (Kingsley, et al., 2015, p. 58). Learning with others gives those who are struggling the opportunity to learn from those who are excelling, and those who are excelling oftentimes have things to learn from those who are struggling. Collaboration with peers alleviates pressure on teachers while encouraging students to independently find answers.

Gamification has the potential to transform both education (Brull & Finlayson, 2016, p. 374) and employment. If the system is geared in a way to make study and work entertaining, then a burden becomes a passion. When pieces of information are reworked into an entertaining and interactive way, a game idea is born. When those pieces stand as an entertaining way to understand a process, a new game is born. The answer does not lie entirely on gimmicks such as points, badges, and other superficial rewards (McFarlane, 2016). The goal is to pull the player in, potentially with an involving story. Whatever the drive of the player, generally, the game should be focused around positive motivations and rarely rely on negative ones. Players feel freedom when they carry out tasks because they want to. Intrinsic motivations are acted upon because they are natural and exciting whereas extrinsic motivations are acted upon out of responsibility.

When implementing gamification structures onto education, a way must be found to measure the student’s progress. A student could have experience points and that equals the grade they receive. As games develop and are integrated into the classroom, gamification will follow. There is only one step from classrooms with games in them to games created around content in classrooms. The evolution of grading systems will follow (Gee, 2014, Chapter 8). In time, the stresses around education and employment can be minimalised and this will hopefully produce a society where individuals are working because they want to and not because they have to.

Innovative schools have already started adopted a play-based approach, at least for younger children (Margaret Hendry School, 2019). In time, as technology develops, education will adopt the technology into its infrastructure. As gaming, virtual reality, and augmented reality become day to day phenomena, the education industry must decide how to use it. As society moves into the post-pandemic society, the Internet surges as people stay at home to work. Virtual reality is rapidly improving, and online meetings are now commonplace. The infrastructure is now there, and the only question is what content will be built around it.

If gaming were integrated into the educational canon, a shift in the ways in which we accomplish goals would occur. If education motivated its students through game-based learning, then the employment structures would necessarily follow, offering much more exciting workplaces. This could potentially reduce depression amongst workers and provide them motivation to work efficiently. As more and more technology is integrated into a student’s life, it must be questioned as to how they will interact with it. A student’s perception about a topic will guide their possible options when discussing it. If a student’s life is gamified, so too can their work. If student motivation were truly understood, then a gamification system could be established as canon in both early and higher education. Gamification is still in its infancy and its true potential is yet to show itself (Hung, 2017, p. 62). What is around the corner will likely surprise even the most enthused educator or gamer.

How technology is being used in the classroom is altering standardised teaching methods. Many schools have a variety of tablets available for the student use. Many young children now have mobile phones. A study by the ABC identifies half of Australian children, ages 6-13, have mobile phones (Sparks, 2019). The future of education lies not in ones and zeros but instead with the character and its ability to make beneficial changes on a global scale.

Gee said that learning to play a game is also learning a new literacy (2014, Chapter 2, para. 1). By integrating learning outcomes into a game, a student can be educated and entertained at the same time. This can be a digital or classroom game or it can be relevant content made into a game, virtually dissecting a frog for instance. In learning a new game, a new literacy is achieved. In learning a new game, one learns the new gaming mechanics behind the game.

Gamification helps people learn by doing instead of passively receiving information (Brull & Finlayson, 2016, p. 275). Gaming mechanics grants a certain degree of tolerance for failure. It has the potential to transform society from one of work into one of play (Herbert, 2018). In a model where failure is accepted, the student is released of any unnecessary stress, yet they are still encouraged through the game mechanics to do their best. The days of standardised testing are coming to their end (Gee, 2014, Chapter 8, para. 18) and a very viable replacement option is that of games-based learning, possessing the ability to track the student’s progress as they go. The modern-day school model will need rethinking and students will be geared to do the best that they can, not the best that a teacher tells them to be.





Brull, S. & Finlayson, S. (2016). Importance of Gamification in Increasing Learning. Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 47(8), 372–375. doi:10.3928/00220124-20160715-09

Hung, A. (2017). A Critique and Defense of Gamification. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 15(1), 57-72.

Margaret Hendry School (2019, November 21). About Margaret Hendry School.

Choose Your Own Adventure (2020, May 21). History of CYOA.

Chou, Y. (2014). Gamification to improve our world: Yu-kai Chou at TEDxLausanne. YouTube.

Dicheva, D., et al. (2015). Gamification in Education: A Systematic Mapping Study. Educational Technology & Society, 18 (3), 75–88.

Entertainment Software Association. (2013). Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry. Entertainment Software Association.

Gee, J. P. (2014). What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (Second Edition). St. Martin's Press.

Herbert, S. (2018). The Power of Gamification in Education | Scott Hebert | TEDxUAlberta. YouTube.

Kingsley, T. & Grabner-Hagen, M. (2015). Gamification: Questing to Integrate Content Knowledge, Literacy, and 21st-Century Learning. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 59(1). doi:10.1002/jaal.426

McFarlane, A. (2016). Neal Stephenson's Reamde: A Critique of Gamification. Dagenham, 45(123). 24-36.

NeSmith, W. C. (2020). This Book Is a Game. Open Source University.

See, C. (2016). Gamification in Higher Education | Christopher See | TEDxCUHK. YouTube.

Sparks, D. (2020, November 24) Half of all Australian kids have hands on mobile phones, according to Communication and Media Authority survey. ABC News.

Watson, W., Yang, S. (2016). Games in Schools: Teachers’ Perceptions of Barriers to Game-based Learning. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 27(2), 153-170