Friday, April 11, 2014

A Brief History of Gamification: Part V - The Definitions (Again)

This is not exactly history (yet) but the discussion about the recent proposal for a gamification definition proposed by Brian Burke, a research analyst at Gartner, brings new issues that will help to understand the concept of gamification and, therefore, will probably be part of its history.


Gamification is “the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals”

They care to explain in detail the components of their proposal:
  • Game mechanics describes the use of elements such as points, badges and leaderboards that are common to many games.
  • Experience design describes the journey players take with elements such as game play, play space and story line.
  • Gamification is a method to digitally engage, rather than personally engage, meaning that players interact with computers, smartphones, wearable monitors or other digital devices, rather than engaging with a person.
  • The goal of gamification is to motivate people to change behaviors or develop skills, or to drive innovation.
  • Gamification focuses on enabling players to achieve their goals. When organizational goals are aligned with player goals, the organization achieves its goals as a consequence of players achieving their goals.
Concerning game elements, not much to say. The examples given are the usual game elements found in gamified applications. Calling them game mechanics or game elements is another issue. I prefer the term "game elements". "Mechanics", in my view, are related to the rules that govern the use of the elements, how are they related and how they can motivate people to achieve their goals.

Experience design is, to my knowledge, a new term in the gamification universe. I believe it is related to the player journey (see this post). In the explanation there is a connection to play, which is a central component in gamification.

A major issue concerning the definition, that raises most of the discussion, is about "digitally engage". In this definition, gamification can only be applied in a digital context. That is not the view of many gamification researchers and practitioners (or gamification gurus). In fact, the concept can be used in any context, digital or non-digital. Digital technologies can help by providing the platforms to assist the implementation of the concept in a non-digital context, but that is not mandatory. See this post about the different application contexts of gamification.

The last part of the definition, motivate people to achieve their goals, is interesting since it focus on the players (the people with goals to be achieved) and not on the organizational goals (that must be aligned with the players' goals). But, in many situations, the target users of a gamified application, may not have such clear goals. In these cases, the gamified application tries to change the players behaviors, to achieve certain goals, that are useful for them but that they are not aware of (or concerned about). Therefore, the goals are set by the organization, and the gamified application tries to motivate the players to reach those goals, that must be clear for the players and that must be, ultimately, the players' own goals. This is particular relevant in educational contexts.

To summarize, this new definition and the discussion about it shows that there is still work to be done to clarify what is meant by gamification. It is now clear that is not the same of games or serious games or simulations or game-based learning (as it was initially confused). But the Burke/Gartner definition reveals that we must look deeper into the contexts where gamification can be applied and to the tools that can be used.

The most common definition, and widely used in the academia, is still "the use of game design elements in non-game contexts". Simple and straightforward. My own definition adds a second part:


It points to the goals of gamification, an engagement like the one people experience with games, as a way to promote some desired behaviors in the target users of the gamified application (that can be digital or non-digital).

Concerning the discussion about the Burke/Gartner definition, see this posts and discussions

Gartner Redefines Gamification: What Do You Think?

A response to Gartner’s new definition of gamification

What gamification is to me – My definition

Gartner is Soooooo Wrong about Gamification…

How #Gartner got Gamification Wrong


This is the fifth post of the series A Brief History of Gamification. See also,

A Brief History of Gamification: Part I - The Origin

A Brief History of Gamification: Part II - The Name

A Brief History of Gamification: Part III - The Definitions

A Brief History of Gamification: Part IV - The Evolution

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