Gamification and the many attempts to scale and define it

Sebastian Deterding defined gamification as ‘the use of game design elements in non-game contexts’. His definition is most widely used definition. It’s often recommended by professionals and scholars as it captures ambiguity and complexities.

History of Gamification

The use of game thinking has been around for as long as man was required to formulate plans and strategies to make ends meet.

Although it’s impractical to track its origin to a fixed time and space in evolution, McGonigal was able to trace game-use in non-game context back to 546BC. Furthermore, many scientist, such as Albert Einstein, when he suggested the games are a superior form of investigations. 

Consider the following examples by Yu Kai Chou and this article published in the guardian on how video games are contributing to science, with examples.

Finding a Definition

Though Oxford dictionary condenses Gamification to;

 the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service…

…and Deterding’s definition (2011) is widely employed and accepted…

The earliest attempt to scale Gamification is seen in the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) where he described an emerging type of engagement. According to Mihaly; 

“… during this kind of highly structured, self-motivated hard work we regularly achieve the greatest form of happiness available to human beings; intense, optimistic engagement with the world around us” – Flow 1990.

…It was not until 2002 that a solid definition manifested…

In 2002, Nick Pelling proposed the first definition, though impressive at the time, Gamification did not become a buzzword until Gartner added it to the hype cycle in 2014. Following Deterding’s contribution, there have been several attempts to claim definitive rights to Gamification.

They include;

Gullietta @UoP

Nick Pelling 2002 –  Applying game-like accelerated user interface design to make electronic transactions both enjoyable and fast.

Yu-Kai Chou 2003 – The craft of deriving all the fun and alluring elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities.

Andrzej Marczewski 2005 – The application of game metaphors to real-life tasks to influence behaviour, improve motivation and to enhance engagement.

Peter Jenkins 2010 – The use of game design metaphors to create more game-like experiences.

Sebastien Deterding 2011 – The use of game design elements in non-game contexts.

George Cotcha 2016: The concept of applying game mechanics & game design techniques to engage & motivate people to achieve their goals.

Brian Burke (Gartner) 2014 – The use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals.

Kevin Webarch 2010 – The use of design techniques from games in business or some other context.

Michael Wu 2015 – The use of game attributes to drive player-like behaviour in non-game context.

Karen Cham 2017 – At Gamification Europe 2017, professor Karen Cham defined gamification as a design mechanic, she said it is …

“… the implementation of game-style incentivisation mechanics, such as motivation, jeopardy and reward, into non-game environments, such as business and services, to increase engagement and/or performance – often as part of CX, UX and EX”.


How Gamification works

Gamification involves selecting from an inventory of mechanics to plan and configure a product or user journey/s. There are 13 primary game mechanics, the popular game mechanics are points, badges, levels, rewards and leaderboard.

Gamification provides several benefits; however, much depends on the mix that is used, how it’s used, and the vendor/s. Like traditional project management, it’s pivotal to investigate and seek expert advice before venturing into any Gamification project.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Published by John Adewole

Senior User Researcher

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