Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gamification, Fun, Flow and Learning

Gamification: Where We Stand
Karl Kapp recently made a status report on the implementation of gamification in the end of 2014, looking particularly at the education and training field. The forecasts pointing to a much more massive adoption of this concept did not actually occur. This, however, is not surprising if we consider the gamification route in the Gartner Hype Cycle (see Gartner Hype Cycle 2014: Gamification on the Through of Disillusionment).

Kapp also points to the different perspectives of the concept that still exist. There are many definitions for gamification and that goes for a long time (see A Brief History of Gamification: Part VII - The Definitions (Again and Again)). Also, terms like “game mechanics” and “game elements” need to be clarified.

What is "Fun"?
One key issue in Kapp’s post is the notion of “fun” and how it could be related to learning. Fun is part of games and, therefore, a concept to be addressed by gamification designers. But, how to use “fun” in gamified learning contexts? And, what is to be “fun”, after all?

Watch the video below:

Is this fun? To watch, for most people, certainly. How about riding those motorbikes? For me it would be a disaster. I do not know how to ride a motorbike, and surely it would not be fun for me to try to do what the guys on the video are doing. But for them, it must have been fun. They have the proper skills; they can face the challenge, control what they are doing and have an immediate perception of how they are performing.

The concept of fun varies from person to person. Something considered fun for some can be seen as dangerous and frightening for others. An activity can only be fun if it the person sees it as motivating and it involves a degree of difficulty compatible with the person’s capabilities.

Fun and Flow
A person, who performs a particular activity with a high degree of involvement and commitment, implies that the person will feel pleasure doing the activity. Feeling pleasure, produces a wellness sensation that causes the activity to become fun, with the activity not necessarily seen as such or as containing some entertainment component.

This balance between the capabilities of the person and the challenges posed by the activity, also forcing a full concentration on the task execution, is the main ingredient of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow. “Flow” is the key to fully enjoy what we do and to achieve a full life.

The fun that arises from a flow state is what Nicole Lazzaro calls "hard fun" (see The 4 Keys 2 Fun). Raph Koster, who wrote the Theory of Fun for Game Design, also states that "when there's flow, players usually say afterwards, 'that was a lot of fun'". But he also points "there can be flow that isn´t fun". Again, the notion of fun is dubious. For Koster, "fun is about learning in a context where there is no pressure, and that is why games matter". "No pressure" means that players are allowed to fail without penalty, and they can try again and again until they succeed. Games offer a safe place to fail and, in each try, players can learn something more.

The 4 Keys 2 Fun

Fun and Gamification
Gamification designers should not primarily design things to be fun, but to be deeply engaging and meaningful. A proper balance between a person’s  skills and the challenge they face, an immediate feedback on how they are doing, a sense of control and autonomy about how to achieve the goals are what is needed to reach a flow state. If the flow state is reached, the activity will be fun for the person performing it.

Concerning gamification design, fun must be seen, mainly, as a consequence of the process rather than a design requisite. This does not mean that a user interface should not be pleasant and nice with the proper aesthetics.

Kapp advises to "position gamification as a method of engagement, not as a way to have 'fun'", but remembers that "if 'fun' sneaks in, all the better".

Learning, Fun and Gamification
For learning to be fun, we do not need to teach with cartoons or funny videos. We have to make learning meaningful and engaging and let the students reach, as close as possible, a flow state. Then, learning will become fun.


On how to apply gamification, Kapp in his report asks the right question: "one of the things gamification is doing in the learning arena is forcing us to ask the question, 'When learning occurs within a game (and it can), what elements of the game and in what situation does that learning occur?'”

Games can teach us how to keep players engaged. Games are made of several design elements and work according to specific techniques. Gamification purpose is to find out which of these elements and techniques should be used and how they should be used in non-game contexts.  The final goal is to get people feel the deep levels of  engagement experienced in games by approaching a flow state.


  1. Gaming has become increasingly more intellectual and is an excellent learning tool when students are engaged and having fun. I think gaming helps learners remember certain concepts better because they were put into action.

  2. There is a link between two because games can modify your mind and these games are also helpful in sharpening the minds of the students here so they can give their more time to their studies.

  3. The games give you ideas here to make you busy all the time and this is necessary bow a days that we keep our students engaged in their work and sports all the time.

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