In the quote above, Bernard defines that playing a game can be a waste of time. And yes, *insert guilty face here* I’ll have to agree on this myself!
But why do we still want to play games? What makes a game motivate us? What’s the relationship between game, gamification, and learning? I’d like to discuss these interesting questions based on a recent gamification book I read called The Gamification of Learning and Instruction by Karl M. Kapp.*
In The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, Karl defines the term “game” as follows:
“A player gets caught up in playing a game because the instant feedback and constant interaction are related to the challenge of the game, which is defined by the rules, which all work within the system to provoke an emotional reaction and, finally, result in a quantifiable outcome within an abstract version of a larger system.” — Karl Knapp*
What do others say about games?
Wikipedia states that “a game is a structured form of play, usually undertaken for entertainment or fun, and sometimes used as an educational tool.”* You can say that we all play some kind of game throughout our life, whether they are games for sports, PC, boards, mobile, etc.
Playing one of your favorite games keeps the excitement on high and you may have experienced pulling an all-nighter. Because games are so appealing, parents have implemented “game-like” chores around the house for children to become more motivated to “play.” Chores are one of those words that don’t sound quite pleasant, but when a game mechanic is included, it transforms an unpleasant task into a fun one. Scroll down more to read more on this concept of “gamification.”
The Gamification of Learning and Instruction demonstrates 12 elements that make games really engaging.
1. Abstractions of Concepts and Reality
Let’s get a bit abstract here. Choose any game or think about a movie that you wish was a game. Now imagine you’re in it. You’re the player. Great! You just created a “game world.”
A game world is an abstracted reality. Transporting yourself into another world allowing you, as a player, to immerse yourself in the game story. You can experience the game without having to worry about unnecessary things. It’s like where games in chess allow players to dive into war strategy without having to actually get into war combat. A game world doesn’t force you to pay your taxes or check with your dentist every 6 months. And it certainly doesn’t kill you. At least physically! When a player is wounded, medical scenarios play differently than in real life. If the injury is severe, a real-life solution would be to immediately go to the hospital. But in a game, the player can most likely consume a medicinal potion to increase its health, or life, points. When we dive into the game world, we enter a safe zone. Real life’s unexpected tribulations become non-existent in our digital fantasy. By being unbothered with those unwanted circumstances, games allow players to go all in and focus solely just on the gameplay.
Farm Village is a specific example of this where trivial obstacles and tasks are eliminated, such as the arduous physical labor from fielding crops, natural disasters damaging the farm, and the burdensome commitments that apply to actual farmers with families. Farm Village is enjoyable because players get to give all of their attention to growing their desired produce. They can oversee their land with a relaxed approach and their situations are a lot more controllable with the field’s game mechanics.
Having a goal helps us differentiate between what is a “game” and what is “play.” A game is goal-oriented. To make a game, you need to have a set of rules, along with competitive elements, that guide players to reach their goal. On the other hand, without a goal leads to free play. According to George Santayana, “Play is whatever is done spontaneously and for its own sake.”
Below is a chart from the article “From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining Gamification.”*
In simplest terms, you need to have a set of rules in a game. No rules? No game.
4. Conflict, Competition, or Cooperation
Conflict, Competition and Cooperation are three sister elements to a good game design. Opponents give players a challenge or conflict. Players are encouraged to defeat their opponents in order to win. To motivate players to invest in themselves, adding a competition element for players to focus on their performance, allows the player to believe their avatar is better, faster, cleverer, and more skilled than the opponents. And lastly, cooperation between players can evoke a more amicable game setting where parties have mutual desires and beneficial outcomes by collaborating together.
Time is usually implemented to motivate players to move quickly or take immediate actions, without wandering aimlessly within the game.
6. Reward Structures
There are many reward ideas to provide players plenty of motivation, such as badges, points, and leaderboards. It also helps them identify what desirable action to take to achieve their goals. According to research on gamification rewards, badges and food emit a chemical release of dopamine in the mid-regional part of your brain, stirring emotion of pleasure.
Feedback is designed to evoke the correct behavior or action to guide the players toward the correct outcome.
8. Game Levels
Players go through different levels when playing a game. This is how game developers are able to monitor and guide players to achieve their victories in a step-by-step process, leading them into the final big win.
Game levels have three goals:
- Each level adds to the game story narrative.
- Each level adds a skill or reinforces a learned one.
- Each level exists as a source of motivation.
9. Player Levels
All players have their own preferred skill set. An expert player will prefer to play more challenging games while a novice player will prefer a beginner’s level. To cater to all types of players, it’s important to develop a game with easy, intermediate, and hard settings. For beginners, tutorials to demonstrate the rules of the game can be introduced. Players at the intermediate level can practice their skills to mastery while receiving game highlights, clues, or any other additional instructions. And finally, the hard, or expert, the level can be the place where experienced players are able to test their skills in a more “freestyle play.” Freestyle play can be defined as how users play more independently. This can open some more creativity for players to have fun. By incorporating different skill levels, a game can garner a wider audience.
Earlier, we’ve spoken about game worlds in our first element, Abstract Concepts, and Reality. In a game world, players often encounter some kind of narrative.
Though, not all the games require a story behind them. Classic games like Tic-Tac-Toe, Hide and Seek, and Sudoku are not based on any story. As technology advanced, games began to add thin layers of meaning and interest to provide a more immersive, entertaining experience. Early arcade games, such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, have names and graphics which give the game meaning. And video games today promote complex storylines with interactive narrations that engage players to keep playing. A well-crafted game-based focus on helping players to solve problems and easily for them to recall.
With story-telling, the concept of a “hero” is widely advertised. A notable researcher of hero myth patterns is Joseph Campbell. Influenced by the analytical psychology of Carl Jung, Campbell studied Jung’s monomyth to break down ideas and compare religions.
Campbell wrote in his highly acclaimed book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949):
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” — Joseph Campbell*
A summarized guide about Campbell’s study of, “The Hero’s Journey” is depicted below.
The six levels of Bloom’s taxonomy:
Overall, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction helped us understand that games instigate drives — a set of playful motivations — for players to want to continue playing. Games let its users immerse themselves in a fantasy-like world, where physical or real-life concerns become abstract, and anyone can step into a heroic journey. What makes games so intriguing are those exact motivations, which defines gamification as the instigator. Just as technology continues to grow, gamification expands the way learners can acquire new skills. We can no longer stand still and ignore the power that gamified learning has on our society today.
- Suits, Bernard. Grasshopper — Games, Life and Utopia. Broadview Press Ltd, 2014.
- Kapp, Karl M. The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-Based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education. Pfeiffer, 2012.
- Robertson, Margaret. “Can’t Play, Won’t Play.” Kotaku, Kotaku, 20 June 2013, kotaku.com/cant-play-wont-play-5686393.
- “Game.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Oct. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game.
- Campbell, Joseph. “The Hero’s Journey.” File:Heroesjourney.svg — Wikimedia Commons, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Heroesjourney.svg.
- Deterding, Sebastian, et al. “(PDF) From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining Gamification.” ResearchGate, Sept. 2011, www.researchgate.net/publication/230854710_From_Game_Design_Elements_to_Gamefulness_Defining_Gamification.
- Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (1949). 1972.
- “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Oct. 2020, en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom’s_taxonomy.