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Gamification: Why use it?

Posted on Aug 17, 2012

In my not-so-long-ago days of secondary schooling, gamification meant PowerPoint Jeopardy, the Oregon Trail, and the stock market simulation game – which I once lost to a kid that put all of his money into Birkenstock and let it sit while playing Oregon Trail all hour. Because of that, though, when I’m on Scottrade trying to figure out my break-even prices, I remember that some things are just pure luck – sometimes a shoe company defies the market, sometimes you and your family get cholera. I owe these lessons to the staples that make up gamification:

It’s fun: Gamifying a job removes the “work” connotation from it. Gabe Zichermann, chair of the Gamification Summit was quoted in a Laptop Magazine article explaining, “We don’t have a lot of fun [at work], and gamified systems can often bring a little bit of fun to things which are fundamentally work.” In the school setting, the concept is the same. Gamifying a lesson removes the “learning” connotation from it. I think this is key for keeping students engaged. The online learning environment is the only way that I could have had the experiences I mentioned above.  I never sat down and thought I was learning history or how to invest, to my adolescent mind that would have meant physical books and classroom lectures; I was simply playing games, and that is the beauty of gamification.

It motivates: Gamification is a competitive environment. The report, Gamification in Education, reasons that gamification takes the motivational power of games and applies it to real-world problems. It went on to offer a very compelling idea for this: gamified environments could foster role-playing scenarios – not necessarily a tribal leader seeking world domination, but, more productively, the “unfamiliar identity of a scholar.” Think of online courses delivered entirely in this manner. It is certainly an eventual route education could take; we’ve been trying to make the classroom fun for years (Oregon Trail, PowerPoint Jeopardy, etc…). In a school using gamification, there could an LED scrolling board of achievements or of the top ten students of that week – this would motivate some, and praise others.

It rewards: To create these scholarly role-playing environments, rewards are necessary. Here, we see things like badges present themselves – digital gold stars. The report explains, “The game can provide social credibility and recognition for academic achievements, which might otherwise remain invisible or even be denigrated by other students.” In the context of education, this is important because if it becomes popular to be at level six in Math Master or have that Ridiculous Reader badge, then nerds just became cool. I just became cool. The report notes, “Students are rewarded for desired behaviors and punished for undesirable behaviors using this common currency as a reward system.” When we were handed back a paper with a red A+ on it or when we saw the actual gold stars on our tests as kids, it felt good. These rewards are necessary because they immediately give positive reinforcement to the student; in the online world, leaderboards or badges would give us something to put up on the digital fridge.

Monday, we’ll look at the real life applications of gamification.

Alba, David. (February 29, 2012). What’s Gamification, and How Can It Make You Happier in Life and
Work? Retrieved August 10, 2012 from

Lee, Joey & Hammer, Jessica. (2011). Gamification in Education: What, How, What Bother? Retrieved on
August 10, 2012 from

Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.

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