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Understanding the concept of Gamification

For Deterding, Dixon, Khaled and Nacke Gamification is the use of game design elements in non-playful contexts"[1]. The authors state that games and serious games can both be differentiated from gamification in that the former form sets, while the latter borrows elements from these sets. 

In other words, in the case of a serious game, we are in the presence of a complete game, whereas Gamification aims to take inspiration from game design to adapt it to other fields that go beyond entertainment (education, health, training, industry, sustainable development...). For example, for the design of a car dashboard, designers can take inspiration from game design to make driving more fun. This is how some brands now offer a little flower in their dashboard. If the driver has an environmentally friendly driving style, petals will materialize. On the contrary, aggressive driving will cause petals to fall off. Thus, through this playful mechanism, the car brands concerned aim to change the behaviour of drivers to make them more responsible. This makes the road safer (safety) while preserving the planet (environment).

With this example, we can understand that driving a car is not a game, but it is above all an utilitarian action: moving from point A to point B. On the other hand, the journey is made fun by the game elements that have been proposed. This corresponds in our example to a scoring system that takes the form of petals that grow or disappear. 

If the score seems simple to grasp, in our everyday life we see a whole set of scoring systems. For example, you lose points on your driver's license. Do you find this a fun aspect? The scoring system is therefore perceived differently depending on the context and the issues involved. Moreover, the game is a subjective perception. It also depends on our culture, our experience, our mood of the moment, the people we are dealing with... A candidate taking his driving licence will probably not find the situation playful, whereas a child who is put in front of a steering wheel with the engine stopped will find the situation very playful. Researcher Henriot explains: "the thing I call a game at the moment [...] might be different tomorrow" [2]. 

Elements of game design

If the perception of the game is subjective for everyone, what do the "game design elements" actually represent in the context of Gamification? Is it possible to draw up a list of them? In terms of game design, the four authors propose five levels of elements:




Game Interface Design Patterns

Common and recognized digital design elements and design solutions adapted to a known problem in a given context, including prototypical solutions

Badge, ranking, level

Patterns of game design and mechanisms

The common use of design elements of a game that relate to gameplay

Time constraints, limited resources, game turns

Principles and heuristics of design

Evaluation principles for approaching a design problem or analyzing a given design solution

Play regularly, precise objectives, diversity of playing styles

Models of the game design

Conceptual models of game components or the game experience

MDA (Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics); challenge, fantasy, curiosity; game design atoms; CEGE (Core Elements of the Gaming Experience)

Methods of game design

Specific game design practices and processes

Game testing, play-centered design, responsible game design


« Levels of game design elements » (Deterding et al., 2014)

In this table we find the aspects of "badges, ranking and level" which are often displayed to explain the principle of Gamification. Nevertheless, when we explore this table other elements allow, according to the four authors, to operate Gamification. For example the use of game mechanics, in other words rules. A rule is, for example, what must be done to win?, in what order do you play?, what are the means at your disposal to play? Throwing a die, moving a piece on a game board, drawing a card and following the instructions given... 

Game and Gamification

Therefore, by picking several elements from game design, one must quickly end up producing a whole game and not just game elements. And it's pretty quick to end up with a game. The minimal basis of game proposed by Alvarez [3] involves only three ingredients: an artifact, rules and a player. If one of these three ingredients is missing, the game is no longer possible. For example, if the artifact represents a marble. Alone, there is no game. If we propose rules such as rolling the marble along a path to cross a finish line, we progress. But we also have to invite one person to move the ball, the player. So, if we summarize, with this minimal basis of game, we are quickly in the presence of a complete game. 

What boundary could be established to differentiate a complete game from a gamified artifact? The difficulty in establishing this boundary is mentioned by the four researchers themselves with the case of the Foursquare application [4]. Is it a game or a gamified application? 

To define Gamification

Faced with this observation, Alvarez, Djaouti and Rampnoux propose us to apprehend gamification as a process (conception, design) whereas the Serious Game is the result of a process. The authors see two levels of scale to apprehend Gamification [5] : 

- On a macro or meso scale, introducing a game, in a company, a school, a hospital..., is in itself a Gamification process. Indeed, it consists in associating game (or game elements) in a context that is devoid of them. An example of Gamification at this level can be illustrated by Classcraft which was developed in 2011 by Shawn Young, a physics teacher in Sherbrooke. In Classcraft, students are grouped into guilds in which they play different classes of characters with complementary powers (knights, healers, mages...). The teacher, who plays the role of master of the game, allocates or withdraws points according to the behaviour of the students: Helping a fellow student, participating, asking a relevant question can earn points. On the other hand, arriving late to the class will lead to the loss of points.

- At the micro scale, the approach is the same but the engineering is different. The idea here is to associate a game (or game elements) with a utilitarian object such as a coffee maker, a pair of glasses, a teaching resource, or even a car dashboard as we mentioned above... 

Thus, whether we are on a macro, meso or micro scale, such Gamification processes allow us to obtain a relation between utilitarian and playful aspects, which can quite possibly lead to a game in the end. Of course, we keep in mind that designers can claim to have designed a gamified artifact or a Serious Game. But in the end it doesn't matter to users or sponsors whether they are dealing with an artifact that has been gamified or a Serious Game. The only thing that matters to them is to live or offer an experience that both entertains and achieves utilitarian goals. 

Example of a gamified application dedicated to EHS

These elements being specified, let's study the case of a gamified application dedicated to the EHS domain. This will enable us to understand in concrete terms the questions raised by the concept of gamification. 

The website set up by the company Immersive Factory (Figure 1) presents a gamified approach in the field of EHS (https://immersivefactory.com). 

Figure 1: Immersive Factory website dedicated to the EHS domain 

(Environment, Health and Safety).

Indeed, from September 2020, it offers a virtual environment in which it is possible to create an avatar and walk around freely to meet other Internet users or members of the Immersive Factory company. This virtual environment proposes a set of places to access seminars, events, audiovisual documents, simulations and serious games as well as offices to organize meetings. The whole is dedicated to the HSE domain. If the idea of a multiplayer virtual environment can be found in some videogame titles such as World of Warcraft (Blizzard, 2004) for example, in the case of the website proposed by Immersive Factory it is not really a game. Indeed, there are no objectives allowing us to win or lose. The designers conceived this virtual environment to provide a training tool dedicated to the HSE domain. It is therefore a utilitarian purpose and not an entertainment one. On the other hand, the navigation mode to access the different sections or exercises on the site is inspired by design processes derived from video games. The idea is to make the ergonomics of the site fun and enjoyable. However, the use of a game-based approach also aims to motivate web users to fully participate in the activities offered. 

This is why the authors of the Immersive Factory website include at the same time badge and score systems that allow each user to see and report his progress within the different exercises proposed in the EHS domain. The approach thus aims at motivating the different participants to come back regularly on the website to perform the featured trainings and to see their progress but also those of their teams or even of their whole company. It is therefore through the playful challenge that motivation is sought here, but also the pleasure of progressing and learning. This mix between games and utilitarian approaches reminds us of the principle of the Serious Game. Thus, if the frontier between gamified approach and game may seem rather tenuous, we see that it is the same between the gamified approach and the Serious Game.

Play in a gamified device

Let us also note that such a website is open to hijacking by Internet users: nothing prevents them from organizing game sessions within the virtual environment proposed by Immersive Factory. For example, some users could organize speed races between avatars to move around different locations or organize hide-and-seek games in the different nooks and crannies offered by this open world. But, these would be playful initiatives orchestrated by the Internet users themselves, as if they were in the presence of a sandbox. Such activities might seem free. But they can respond to an aspect of learning in an informal situation: that of appropriating the modes of control to navigate as well as possible in the virtual environment proposed. It is the task of the skillful trainer to appropriate such playful activities to draw parallels with risks that may be encountered in the real world and thus connect Internet users to the ESH domain. This is called ludopedagogy.

It is here that an observation is made: the gamification process is not limited to the creation of a product. It also concerns the implementation of serious gaming experiences. In other words, gamification can also be seen as an activity design. This is logical when we know that gaming is both about game and play. It is by exploiting and combining these two aspects of gamification that we probably maximize the chances of achieving the utilitarian objectives we are aiming for, such as training in the ESH field.



[1]  DETERDING, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R. & Nacke, L. (2014). « Du game design au gamefulness : définir la gamification », Sciences du jeu [Online], 2 | 2014, Online since 24 October 2014, DOI : 10.4000/sdj.287, http://journals.openedition.org/sdj/287, (consulté le 14 Août 2019).

[2]  HENRIOT, J. (1989). « Sous couleur de jouer », José Corti, PARIS, (FRANCE).

[3] ALVAREZ, J. (2019). “Design des dispositifs et expériences de jeu sérieux. Multimédia [cs.MM]. Université Polytechnique des Hauts-de-France, 2019., https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-02415027v1 (consulté le 15 Juin 2020)

[4] Initialement l’application Foursquare (Foursquare, 2009), pour smartphones et consoles de jeux portables, est un réseau social associant du micro-blogging et de la géolocalisation avec une approche ludique dans la mesure où les utilisateurs reçoivent des badges des autres utilisateurs en fonction des défis menés : https://cursus.edu/articles/3491/le-phenomene-foursquare-melanger-media-social-jeu-et-geolocalisation (consulté le 15 août 2019)

[5] ALVAREZ, J., DJAOUTI, D. & RAMPNOUX, O. (2016). « Apprendre avec les Serious Games ? », Editions Réseau Canopé, POITIERS, (FRANCE), 128 p., ISBN : 978-2-2400-4084-8

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