You Need to Know The Difference Between Gamification and Gameful Experiences

Educators are trying to be more creative in the classroom and make their instruction more relevant to learners. The push is to gamify learning. But before their efforts are met with measurable learning outcomes, they must better understand the difference between gamification and gameful experiences or gamefulness and the psychology behind both.

two boy and girl holding game controllers

A multi-disciplinary research team is bridging the gap between psychology and gamification that could significantly impact learning efforts in user experience design, healthcare, and government.

 Research at the University of Waterloo and the University of Minnesota, has integrated models from psychology with human-computer interaction, which allows for a more deliberate, interactive connection between the two disciplines in the understanding of gameful experiences.

Gamification is the use of game elements in applications that are not games. For example, a user experience designer can borrow elements from games, such as quests, stories, and badges, to motivate users to interact with a product, system, or service.

Gameful experience is the state a person is in when interacting with a gameful system, now defined as an interactive state. Gameful experience occurs when a person is engaged in meaningful, fun, and achievable goals that motivate them for learning and working.

man playing game on personal computerClarifying and defining this term will provide a unifying foundation for any future work on gamification and help psychologists, user experience designers, and game developers better understand each other.

Gamefulness is often loosely defined by researchers applying their own intuitive understanding of games. The inconsistent use of the term by people working in the field has caused confusion and hindered progress in this important area. Children, adolescents and adults are playing games, and the process which fuels this craze must be understood.

Interactive video games, and the platforms upon which they are run are being integrated into the learning environment. Younger teachers who grew up with these computer games, are now utilizing them as innovative teaching methods for classrooms. Interest in video games has grown and it helps those students who need a faster paced learning environment instead of traditional lectures.

Proponents say video games can be powerful classroom instruments that prod students to think creatively to solve complex problems. They provide rapid feedback that forces students to rethink and alter strategies. And they can empower students to work together to conquer specific tasks.

Vital to a unifying approach is the understanding that a gameful experience is a state resulting from the interaction of three psychological characteristics:

  • perceiving presented goals to be non-trivial and achievable,
  • being motivated to pursue those goals under arbitrary externally-imposed rules and
  • believing that one’s actions within these constraints are voluntary.

Researchers examined literature and practices, from design to player experience to psychological states,  to come up with the key characteristics that define gameful experiences.

game cartridges 

Clarifying the terminology will help us create more gameful systems which will help people use this kind of technology to learn more effectively.  For educators who gamify their instruction, the flow chart below starts with knowing who your students are and where the instruction fits into the larger curricular framework.

gamify learning flow

The type of instruction and identification of “pain points” (factors that prevent learning) will help to define learning objectives and structure the placement of game elements in the curriculum. Then you can begin to identify resources – pre-existing games or ones that you will develop, which can range from complex to very simple. Finally, you will implement the gamification strategies, keeping in mind that the objective is to gamify the process not the outcome.

Gamification of instruction in school settings does not guarantee the types of gameful experiences  that spark  intrinsic motivation of learners.  A gamified learning environment will be structured by providing an overarching narrative which functions as a context for all the learning activities.

Game elements typically combine the following two principle:

• Define tasks that are challenging, but achievable: Gamification provides many short-term, achievable goals to maintain the engagement.
• Define clear goals and rules of play: Gamification provides clear goals and well-defined rules of play to ensure players feel empowered to achieve goals.

turned on computer monitor on table

While the concept of gamification may be simple, efficiently gamifying a concept is not. When designing and developing game-based interventions we should consider also mechanisms promoting intrinsically motivating learning
experiences. Gamification entails thinking in a new way with respect to organizing the instruction. The ultimate goal
is to turn the formal classroom itself into a game-like experience!

As the games are directly related to human psychological needs and behavioral patterns, they are becoming powerful tools for achieving goals in non-entertainment
contexts. Gamification does not imply creating games but making learning more fun and engaging, without undermining its credibility.


1 thought on “You Need to Know The Difference Between Gamification and Gameful Experiences

  1. Excellent

    On Thu, Jan 3, 2019, 12:12 PM DIVERSITY University wrote:

    > JaDonnia B. posted: “Educators are trying to be more creative in the > classroom and make their instruction more relevant to learners. The push is > to gamify learning. But before their efforts are met with measurable > learning outcomes, they must better understand the difference ” >


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