Non-evil Gamification

4:34 PM Coline Pannier 2 Comments

When we hear of gamification, it is often in reference to the tip of the iceberg: achievements, levels, points, and other forms and representations of scoring systems. This leads to a common misconception that one could simply add a few levels and points to turn a boring task into something fun. However, even if these kinds of game mechanics are able to prompt behaviours to some extent, it is a double-edged sword.

Retention mechanics

To understand why rewards such as points and leveling-up have become so prominent in the past few years, it is enlightening to look at recent trends and debates in the video games industry. Since the advent of free-to-play games, and especially the development of mobile platforms, it has become a commercial necessity for game designers to build in mechanics to retain players. The goal is to keep players hooked in the game as long as possible, so as to maximize the chances that they start paying for items through micro-transactions. And with the help of analytics, companies are getting better at refining the reward schedules that drive behaviours.

Compulsion vs. engagement

As a player, if you have tried one of these so-called “addictive games” you probably got bored after a few hours and maybe wondered on hindsight why you ended up spending so much time on it “well past the point where it was fun”. This is because, as explained in the Extra Credits video on Skinner boxes, these games are tricking your brain with specific reward patterns so that you feel compelled to come back for more.

In reality, the urge to come back and click compulsively on a button comes from conditioning, not engagement; this sparks many debates among game designers about the psychological exploitation of game mechanics and reward schedules. In an opinion piece, What is Applied Game Design?, social game designer Amy Jo Kim sums up perfectly the issues with the careless exploitation of game mechanics in the context of gamification.

The science of motivation

On the bright side, we already know what creates actual engagement.

Well-designed games can generate true happiness

Research shows that 3 drivers truly motivate us in the long run: Mastery, autonomy and purpose (1). Good game design builds on these 3 elements, and in particular on mastery, to create deep experiences. In this aspect, game design is the art of building learning curves, that is to create a system that players will learn to master step by step, growing in skills and confidence, learning new things and enjoying themselves in the process.

“Skill-building is what ACTUALLY drives sustained engagement - not layered-on progress metrics. Those can work for awhile as a novelty - but ultimately progression mechanics like points, badges and levels will backfire and create clutter unless they're tied into a system that moves the customer towards meaningful mastery.”  -Amy Jo Kim
Keeping in mind the difference between exploiting game mechanics to create compulsive behaviours, and building game systems that encourage players to master increasingly complex skills, we can wield design tools knowingly and truly gamify for the greater good.


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(1) For a good summary on this topic, see Dan Pink's famous TED talk “The puzzle of motivation

2 comments:

Classroom gamification: conquering the world?

4:47 PM Bart Giethoorn 0 Comments


The rise of gamification is bound to have an impact on education as well. There are quite a few people thinking on and working hard towards making the classroom a more stimulating environment; as is evident also by the gEducation vertical workshop day at the Gamification World Congress in Barcelona. Still, gamifying education is a slow process, with a number of hurdles yet to be overcome. So today, I'd like to take a birds eye view and point towards what I think will be the main catalyst for change in this process.

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Maybe It’s not Attention Deficit Disorder but Poor Design Habits in Academia: Can We Make Science Education and Communication More User-Friendly?

8:38 PM John C. Lokman 0 Comments

If the reader is to grasp what the writer means, the writer must understand what the reader needs.” —Gopen & Swan

 The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives.” —Walters

Did you ever have that grim look on your face while staring at an academic article and felt frustrated when you realized how painful and time consuming it was going to be to understand it? (And reading its abstract only made it worse?) Or did you ever pretend to listen to lecture and felt like an impostor despite your best attempts to listen?

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Life, games and religion

2:53 PM Jordin van Deyl 0 Comments

You’ve read the title and might be wondering what those three have in common. When you stop and think about it, I’m sure there’s plenty of things that connects them. There is, however, one particular thing that currently does not connect them, but could.

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Of definitions and meanings...

1:33 PM Joanna Ioannidou 0 Comments


Searching for gamification on Google returns over 6 million resultsimpressive for a discipline as young as this one, if you ask me. As we are only adding to this expansive list of information available on gamification, I thought that an introduction to our team, and the basic definitions associated with the term would be a useful ground to build this blog upon.

Looking back at my Google results, I see a sort of agreement on the principle that gamification has to do with games (hence the term after all). From Google's view on gamification as "the application of game playing to other areas of activity", to Wikipedia's broader explanation of gamification as "the process of making systems, services and activities more enjoyable and motivating." 


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