Playing videogames on Playstation 4, Uncharted 3 with the controller in front.
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Becoming Gameful

Gamification applies game-design elements and priniciples to non-game contexts. Gameful pedagogy builds game mechanics into our course.

Close your eyes. Think back to the first time that you played a video game. It was an incredible experience that challenged you, engaged you, and kept you coming back for more. It is these experiences that drive the move towards gamification.

Gamification is applying game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts; education in the context of this post. Gamification refers to adding game elements to a course such as leaderboards, badges, trophies, and achievements. However, while good in theory, it does not bring the emotion and thrill behind grabbing a game-controller and playing a video game for the first time.

An animated GIF showing the first few  seconds of gameplay from the original Super Mario Bros. A good game to learn about a gameful approach.
How was it to play Mario Bros. for the first time?

This is where we bring Gameful Pedagogy into the mix. Being gameful builds game elements and mechanics into the design of the course itself.

Some of the key characteristics of games, specifically video games, are the ability to rank or level up, having a choice in the experience, immediate feedback, the opportunity to learn from failure, and transparency.

Thus, when we integrate these elements into the design of our curriculum and our unit plans, the learning experience becomes much smoother, much more engaging and, dare I say, thrilling.

The myth of grades

Gameful design operates in a self-deterministic framework—we want to apply what self-determination theory says about how intrinsic motivation works to build motivating classroom experiences.

This concept of intrinsic motivation is something that rests behind a lot of good course and assignment design. We’ve all read countless books, articles and research that state that our goal as educators is to find ways to intrinsically motivate our students. Then, what is so hard about it? Grades.

Grades, or at least grades by themselves, are external motivators. And, even though there are some students who will definitely feel motivated looking for that perfect grade, it will not be the case for all of our students. If the grade is the only motivator, the learning will more likely be shallow and short-term. Students won’t be invested in what they’re doing.

An animated GIF showing a Charmeleon evolving into Charizard in the Pokémon games. Leveling up is part of gameful pedagogy.
Pokémon allows you to level up

How does this tie into gameful experiences? Let’s look at the first game mechanic: the ability to rank or level up. We’ve all heard the teacher who starts the year by saying: “You’ve all got a 100% in this course, it’s up to you to keep it that way”. This is a terrible starting point. We’re setting students up to fail as they move through the school year. And they’ll be in constant fear of the next assignment being the one which will topple them.

By contrast, a gameful design means that students start with zero points and each assignment is an opportunity to earn points. Isn’t this a better way to show actual learning and growth? By leveling up in class, students are demonstrating that they are becoming better. Thus, the grade becomes a meaningful reflection of the process.

This ties in nicely with our following game mechanic implementation: the opportunity to learn from failure.