Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

24 May 2011


Clark @ 6:08 AM

The latest ‘flavor of the month’ is so-called gamification. Without claiming to be an expert in this area (tho’ with a bit of experience in game design), I have to say that I’ve some thoughts both positive and negative on this.

So what is ‘gamification’? As far as I can tell, it’s the (and I’m greatly resisting the temptation to put the word ‘gratuitous’ in here :) addition of game mechanics to user experiences to increase their participation, loyalty, and more. Now, there are levels of game mechanics, and I can see tapping into some deeper elements, but what I see are relatively simple things like adding scoring, achievements (e.g. badges), etc.   A colleague of mine who released a major learning game admitted that they added score at the end to compensate for the lack of ability to tune further and needing to release to appease investors. I get it; there are times that adding in gamification increases bottom lines in meaningful ways. But I want to suggest that we strive a little bit higher.

In Engaging Learning, I talked about the elements that synergistically lead to both better effectiveness of education practice, and more engaging experiences. These weren’t extrinsic like ‘frame games’ (tarted-up drill-and-kill), but instead focused on aligning with learner interests, intrinsic elements of the task, and more. This means finding out what drives experts to find this intriguing, a role that learners can play that’s compelling, meaningful decisions to make, appropriate level of challenges, and more. That’s what I’m shooting for.

The benefits of intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic have been studied since the late 70’s in work by Tom Malone and Mark Lepper. In short, you get better outcomes when people are meaningfully engaged rather than trivially engaged. Dan Pink’s book Drive lays out a wealth of related research that suggests we need to avoid rewards for rote performance and instead should be focusing on helping folks do real tasks. I can’t remember where I first heard the term ‘engagification’, but that’s just what I’m thinking of.

To me, it’s the right way take gamification, focus on intrinsic motivation. If we’re gamifying, we’re covering up for some other deficiency, I reckon. Yes, there may be times that intrinsic motivation is hard to find (e.g. to get fit), but that probably means we haven’t tried hard enough yet. I recall recently hearing about gamifying kids math problems; yes, but rote problems are the wrong thing to drill. Can’t we find the intrinsic interest in math, solving real problems (like the ones they’ll see in the real world, not on tests)?  I reckon we could, and should. It would take more effort initially, but the payoff ought to be better.

Perhaps gamify if you have to, but only after you’ve first tried to engagify. Please.


  1. I like your thinking here Clark. It really is about tapping into people’s motivational and emotional drivers – and different things will appeal to different people for different reasons, some of which may be quite complex. How about the terms ’emotification’ and ‘motivification’? A good game in my view has an element of addiction ‘addictification’- I can remember when I was a child I couldn’t wait to play space invaders at the arcade and progress to the next level – I was particularly motivated to get to the top of the leaderboard, particularly if I could see my friends names on there. I also remember having “fun” playing the game and enjoyed the overall intrinsic challenge. Then the new Casio Calculator launched with an addictive game and I could play it anytime I wanted – it was awesome entertainment ‘entertainification’. With ‘social gaming’ comes that element of community and connectivity. Some people play games like World of Warcraft and Second Life (SL a game or just a virtual world?) for escapism, fantasy, self-expression, a sense of belonging, making real money, something to stay occupied, or just the company of others. If you don’t visit Farmville on a regular basis your crops and livestock will die. Then comes the whole slew of mobile apps with a gaming element like Foursquare – some people like getting badges and the prestige of being the Mayor – others are in it for the deals. LinkedIn has a number of game devices built into it. Then comes Empire Avenue and some commentators are calling the game “fun” and the essence of what social media and gaming is all about – I see EA as something that taps into one’s ego drivers, and a higher level of perceived ‘influence’ and ‘reputation’ is important to many of the players. I’m yet to discover the fun side of this game, but maybe my motivations are different.

    I often see people talking about adding a gaming layer onto existing processes, especially when mentioned in a business application context. I’m not so convinced, and wondering if it would be better to start from scratch and hardwire a gaming experience ‘experiencification’ into it, rather than adding it on top. I see enormous opportunities to do this in a recruitment, learning, HR, and business context. It’s also an opportunity to better understand the hearts and minds of our target audiences.

    Comment by Paul Jacobs — 25 May 2011 @ 5:48 PM

  2. …and the research goes on and on… Kids given special rewards (think “badgification”) for drawing with markers begin to draw less than kids not given rewards. Monkeys enjoy solving puzzles but once rewards are introduced, the monkeys given rewards for solving produce more errors and take longer to solve them. All that counter-intuitive evidence adds up to a big fat No to gamification (for me) in scenarios where we need the person to develop the intrinsic motivation and think, create, etc.

    Gamification /extrinsic rewards are appropriate and useful for things where there never WILL be an intrinsic reward, so if it is for flossing or doing chores, by all means. And for encouraging activities that we want to do but are struggling, like exercise, then the clear progress and goal focus is very powerful. But the same people championing things like, say Nike+ do not seem to see any difference between that and gamifying *reading books*.
    (yes there is an exception where gamification / extrinsic rewards are used purely and carefully as a bridge ONLY until the knowledge and skills for the new thing match the challenges and intrinsic motivators can kick in, but… I never see examples of it done carefully in this way, and it is very tricky and risky).

    If we go down the gamification path with learning (and this is different from actual learning GAMES), we have pretty much given up all hope of creating real motivation for the thing we hope people will do. I get the fact that we are often doing a terrible job of providing relevance for learners, and that we fail the “why should I care?” test. But the answer is not gamification. If we have to gamily to get people to engage, then we have already lost the battle and we simply get activity for the sake of the external reward system. That might look like engagement, but of course it is so unlikely to lead to meaningful and useful outcomes. If we cannot provide relevance, we are far better off dropping the topic completely rather than trying to “sex it up”. if we cannot find a compelling use-case for the topic, why is it even there in the first place? And if it truly IS relevant, there ought to be a use-case scenario that makes that stunningly clear (flight simulators with a potential to crash are the extreme example).

    Oh, sorry for the rant but this whole gamification hype is deeply disturbing to me. I know a fair amount about learning, and a whole lot about game design. And most of what is described as gamification is little more than a dressed up slot machine. Operant conditioning FTW! Which might not be a problem if it were simply a temporary gain that evaporated and left people back where they started. But as the research suggests, some forms of gamification leave us with a motivation deficit, and that is one thing we surely do not need.

    I also gave a personal story where, as a horse trainer, I nearly gamified one of my horses to death. Literally. But that’s for another time. Anyway, I am so glad you posted this. I am finding very few allies in my “do not put us in a Skinner box, bro” campaign.

    Comment by Kathy Sierra — 25 May 2011 @ 6:21 PM

  3. […] – Clark Quinn – “Engagification” […]

    Pingback by Engagify Before You Gamify | Brian Dusablon — 25 May 2011 @ 8:42 PM

  4. Hey Kathy – just glanced upon your video presentations – there is some real thought provoking stuff there – will go back and have a more in-depth look. Pleased you left a comment!

    Comment by Paul Jacobs — 26 May 2011 @ 6:25 AM

  5. I don’t think we can talk about gamification in education or in general, and exclude talking about consumerism, the ethos of our times. Consider the act of shopping as compared to going to an art museum. Consider the expertise developed to be a savvy consumer as compared to understanding a work of art, and the value we place on each as a society. Gamification is in Baudriallard’s terms, just another simulation designed to reify consumerism. “Disneyland exists so that the rest of America seems real”. If you unpacked consumerism/consuming/consumption and did so without an ethical lens, it’s still rather mundane as far as human (cognitive) experiences go.

    Comment by Suzanne Aurilio — 26 May 2011 @ 4:46 PM

  6. Fabulous feedback, folks, thanks for the contributions. I think gamification has really touched a nerve, for good and bad, and we want to be thinking about it, not just going for the easy win. Of course, then we get to thinking about what our values really are, but that, I think, is wise.

    Comment by Clark — 29 May 2011 @ 2:01 PM

  7. Thank YOU, Clark. This is a tricky and controversial topic, and I recognize that being anything less than enthusiastic for gamification today puts one in the minority. I spoke with Dan Pink about his thoughts on gamification and why he has not yet weighed in (given his work with Drive), and his response was, “These are crucial and subtle issues, but where greed is involved, subtlety vanishes.” It is tough to make the subtle points, and even tougher when we do not yet have clear understanding and agreement on terminology, etc. But again, thank-you!

    Comment by Kathy Sierra — 29 May 2011 @ 2:21 PM

  8. Clark,
    I’m currently reading Jane McGonigal’s excellent book ‘Reality is Broken’ – thoroughly recommend this for anyone interested in using posotive psychology to engagify and gamify their learning design!

    Comment by James Hobson — 29 May 2011 @ 2:36 PM

  9. Clark, As usual, timely and insightful. Thanks for this.

    I also came across this nice piece on how slapping badges on everything doesn’t solve anything… http://innovationgames.com/2010/12/gamification-badges-and-points-are-missing-the-point/

    Learning isn’t Foursquare… Though I might want to be the mayor of my office. ;-)

    Comment by Chad Udell — 31 May 2011 @ 7:41 PM

  10. […] Quinn has already shared an article he wrote in 2011 exploring this topic, and it’s a great place to start. If you don’t already subscribe […]

    Pingback by Exploring trends in learning: what is your experience with gamification? | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog — 4 January 2013 @ 5:24 AM

  11. […] That we are unable to create content that resonates with our audience. That we are unable to engagify. That we are unable to realistically asses knowledge and performance. That we are unable to create […]

    Pingback by FocusAssist by Mindflash: A New Low in Elearning Development | onehundredfortywords — 22 August 2013 @ 1:36 AM

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