Useful Articles in Gamification (Part 3)

When looking for “seminal” articles in the field of gamification, one is confronted with works published in formal academic journals but more frequently from a variety of conferences. The field is fairly nascent and has been directed toward a wide variety of areas of focus. The best way to appreciate the field, perhaps, is to provide a sampling of a couple articles that provide an overview of the field. First, though, a quick discussion about the “father” of gamification . . .


Nick Pelling is credited for coining the concept of “gamification” in 2002 (though in a conference, he tells his audience it was in 2003). He divined the concept through his experiences in business school. Being told that success was based on defining what “you’re good at,” he quickly concluded that he was good at games given his years of work in the gaming industry. Business school, he stated, was centered on determining “present worth” of an asset. But upon reflecting upon games and business enterprises, Pelling had an epiphany: business schools were asking the wrong question. Economic value should be less associated with present worth and more associated with potential worth in the future.

The gaming industry was impacting all areas of culture, economy, and society in such a massive way that thoughtful entrepreneurs should be able monetize that insight. Pelling attempted to do that with an admittedly ill-fated startup called Conundra from 2003-06. Regardless of his failure, he identified two key elements in then-contemporary games: immersive interface design and digital content platforms; in the next wave, social media became an integral factor. Pelling is critical of the last element and envisions it as a crass forms of advertising and persuasion. His favored incarnations of the second stage focus on platforms that join people together and empower them. His examples of this include Kickstarter, AngelList, and even


A. “Does Gamification Work?—a literature review of empirical studies on gamification,” J Hamari, J Koivisto, H Sarsa, System Sciences HICSS, 2014.

Gamification, like any big idea, is great in theory. Articles such as Hamari’s are essential when investigating whether or not the theory actually works in practice. First, though, they demonstrate the almost exponential growth of literature in the field. Hamari and company look at a range of independent and dependent variables.

Hamari and company break down gamification into a simple linear progression:

Motivational AffordancePsychological OutcomesBehavioral Outcomes

Their literature review includes sites such as Google Scholar and ProQuest, which yielded large results; however, upon inspection, the literature that had been subjected to traditional peer-review was substantially lower. All withstanding, for those peer-reviewed articles with empirical studies and analysis, they did find positive associations, which were tempered due to factors associated with the study participants and other limitations. They pointed to other areas for possible research.

B. “How to Gamify? A Method for Designing Gamification,” Morshheuser B, Werder K, et al. System Sciences HICSS, 2017.

This article is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it touches upon the major question of entrepreneurs seeking to apply game dynamics in existing or new fields. Second, and strangely, this concept of “designing gamification” runs contrary to Pelling’s original assessment. Gamification was not something that one applies to a given business sector, but what the games culture had been doing for years to all other industries. While Pelling was prescient, with passing years the operative issue became recognizing the mutual dynamics between the formal game industry and other industries. At this stage, of course, most of the influence flows from the game industry to other fields

Morshheuser’s article looks at the future of gamification given the prediction by the Connecticut-based Gartner Group. Gartner predicted in 2011 that by 2015 half of all organizations would be incorporating some type of gamification into their operations; however, others also have predicted that ventures into gamification are doomed to failure due to flawed concepts about game design.  In this context, Morshheuser and company sought to develop a methodology.

For the methodology, they developed a set of best practices, performed a literature review for gamification design, and then received feedback about their model from a battery of recognized experts. Their product was represented by an extremely detailed, if not tedious flow chart that focused on thirteen straight-forward requirements, such as: understanding goals and characteristics, engaging in an iterative design process, obtaining input from stakeholders, involve users, et al. Many of these requirements make eminent sense, for example, and most importantly, obtaining input from stakeholders and users.

Next week we’ll take a look at something completely new in the field of eLearning. Any ideas about areas you’d like us to pursue? Send us an e-mail!

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., Learning Strategist

Games vs. Gamification (Part 2)

It is January . . . time for looking at upcoming trends for 2017. An interesting way to look at gamification trends is to contrast them with game trends. Contrasting them helps to delineate commonalities and differences while identifying opportunities and limitations for applying gaming in the world of eLearning.

JAG Global Learning

JAG Global Learning


Gaming is a major part of U.S. and international consumer culture. Regardless of the platform—Nintendo, PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and various mobile platforms—individuals play games while waiting for their dentist or the chicken to roast while at home. Advances in the field, and this is not surprising, are driven by technology.  Moreover, gaming has become an integral part of consumerism and rewards, driven by our use of portable technology, which has become a measure of identity. Life without it, for many, seems unimaginable. In short, gaming is a central to daily living not just education. But . . . let’s close the door of dystopia and focus on a couple of gaming trends to see their powerful application for eLearning.

Two key gaming trends are the use of GPS in the field and VR in a fixed environment.  Regarding the latter, VR technology has improved greatly and is becoming more widely available and affordable to the general public. In order to appreciate advances in eLearning gamification, let’s look at two important games: Pokémon Go and Resident Evil: Biohazard.

Pokémon is a wildly popular console game created two decades ago with the goal of players collecting, training, and using fictional characters (Pokémon) in battle. This concept was franchised through trading cards, movies, and videos. The most recent incarnation is Pokémon Go, which is a free mobile app that empowers participants to travel to different physical spots using GPS to locate different types of Pokémon. The Resident Evil console game is quite different. Instead of traveling to different spots in the “actual” world, through the use of cutting edge virtual reality (VR) headsets, the VR participant is immersed in a digital world, ostensibly supplanting the “actual” world. Biohazard has been singled out for its shocking, graphic realism.


1. Variations of Reality

Variations of reality? Let’s look at references in popular culture: Keanu Reeves’ Neo in the Matrix and Jessie L. Martin’s Tom Collins in Rent. Neo combats the Matrix to release humans from their unconsciousness albeit physical slavery that sustains their virtual world; alternatively, Tom Collins, from MIT, is kicked out of his doctoral program for his theory of Actual Reality, which mocks theoretical concepts of reality in favor of civic action to address inequity and injustice.

Let’s look at different types of reality, as it were represented by the extremes noted above. When thinking about alternative uses and understandings of reality, remember the context. A primary gaming goal is to entertain the participant. There are, of course, secondary benefits, but entertainment is central. This can be performed through the satisfaction of game mastery or simply emotional release. The primary goal of gamification is different: learning, or for us, eLearning, which ultimately has the associated benefit of real-world application.

Virtual Reality (VR) provides gamers with a more compelling experience by supplanting actual or visual representations of the world with a complete simulation; likewise, VR provides learners with the most tangible sense of trial and error that they would otherwise only be able to obtain by personal training. What’s the obvious challenge for developers in eLearning? Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry that has huge capital resources for R&D. eLearning does not have that benefit. However, in as much as the government uses VR in its training and executive operation, it is possible that educational institutions might be able to draw upon that intellectual capital given that government VR applications were created using public money.

Augmented Reality (AR) is capable of adding (augmenting) digital information to live videos. This provides users with an ability to appreciate space/size ratios among other things. Imagine using an AR app to position not-yet-bought furniture around a video of your living room. While this example draws on a consumer, marketing app, there are a range of eLearning opportunities. Note field use is not restricted to eLearning outside.

Program-Based Reality creates narrative scenarios through a basic user-computer interface. The “reality” is governed by the gamer or learner’s operation of commands, which then generates programmed results. This was a precursor of VR’s trial and error. This is traditional eLearning that uses in-class or Internet based educational portals.

On-the-Job-Training (OJT) is the traditional manner through which skills and trades are transmitted to new employees or apprentices. No use of technology per se. Each perspective of reality noted above—VR, AR, PBR, and OJT—figuratively and literally position the gamer or learner in his or her use of technology.

What are some of the new applications in eLearning? Nurse training, McDonalds management training, repair/maintenance, and anatomy tutorials are the most commonly sited examples. While we all may have our favorite “reality” approach to eLearning, but who is to say that they cannot be used in combination? Imagine training individuals working in complicated and vast storage and/or archival network. Much can be accomplished through each approach used above, with OJT being the final run through before employee independence.

2. The Future of Gaming and Gamification?

While Pokémon Go and Resident Evil are taking the gaming world by storm, there is another approach, just as important, but with a different modus operandi and significant future application for eLearning and gamification. Minecraft, one of the best selling video console games of all time, has been around for a relatively short time. While similar to other gaming applications, Minecraft is distinctive for incorporating the capacity for gamers to build virtual landscapes and even change the rules of the game; participants can play in various modes: survival, creative, adventure, and spectator. The game permits individual and multiple players.  Why should this be of value to eLearning and gamification?

As noted, gamification draws upon natural human capacities in a variety of ways, for example, competition and social recognition. Many elements of gaming, though, are based on competition. Yes, there is value here, but to reach its full potential, eLearning needs a wider focus. Minecraft permits survival (competition), but it facilitates adventure and creation too. Isn’t that what education and eLearning should be about?  Instead of creating platforms for competitive games, eLearning administrators can create intellectual and visual landscapes that depict the relationship of concepts and areas of study instead of relying upon analog outlines. Here, learners can walk through and access/add content information. On a different level, learners can create their own landscapes and projects or develop discussions questioning given ideas and offering new ones. The challenge here . . . as with the facets of gaming and its application in consumer culture, one must be mindful that the means of eLearning does not override the primary goal: learning.

Next week let’s take an academic turn in our discussion and look at some seminal gamification articles as well some recent publications. See you next week!

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., JAG Learning Strategist