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Introduction to Meaningful Gamification

I've been working on a theoretical base for meaningful gamification, and have created this video as a brief introduction and a way to seek out input on the basic ideas.  The next step for me is writing a book with case studies.  This video explains gamification, the problems with the way it is currently implementation, and introduces the concept of meaningful gamification.

At center of meaningful gamification is the needs of user (as compared to the needs of the company).  The goal is to help the user find connections between their own interests and a non-game activity.  The company will then benefit from these connections. I'm basing my definition off of Deterding et als 2011 definition of gamification.  Meaningful gamification is the use of game design elements to help users find meaning in non-game contexts.


Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. (2011). From game design elements to gamefulness: Defining "Gamification". Proceedings from MindTrek '11. Tampere, Finland: ACM.

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Reader Comments (5)

I am very intrigued by the challenge to think of motivating learning by gamifying that is meaningful to each user, though I think I'd need to go on a retreat to let my playful side come alive enough to generate ideas.

I immediately think of my 9-year old daughter, and am sure that if I asked her to imagine how to make the learning that she does at school every day more like a game, she would have all sorts of interesting ideas. Maybe you should consider interviewing kids as a starting point to generate some ideas. Even a focus group of kids. Hopefully some of the ideas would be generalizeable to learning by adults and not just for kids.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnnelie

The whole gamification/rewards/etc thing makes me nervous after hearing Chris Hecker's talk at the GDC. I'm interesting in seeing/hearing more about what you're finding and how you might implement all of this successfully.

February 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Likens

Dear Scott

thank you for this video. I think it's a good explanation of a core problem in gamification. Creating one motivation (game points) to simulate internal motivation (willpower for example) is problematic when game points are removed.
One argument in favor of using this method is the 'boosting' argument. Basically saying that it doesn't matter what it takes to get someone started, as long as someone is helped to overcome initial inertia in changing their habits. The goal here to have an increased likelihood that new habits may stick once the game point motivation is removed. We have evidence that this can be effective in persuasive health. From a psychological theory standpoint, the point of intervention is the notion of 'self efficacy' - if one's perception of efficacy is improved, it is more likely that behavioral change can occur. Therefore I think that there is an argument when designing motivation activities, to match the thing that basic gamification (giving points) does well, in this case overcoming the internal inertia, to the goal of kickstarting change.

I'll turn now to the problem that you point out later, that
a) good gamification is more than just points. It is strategy, play and risk-reward balance
b) designers should include these things explicitly in using gamification for purposes other than 'just' play

I like the idea of a) but I am not sure how it plays out in b). Some questions I had
1. If designers do include strategy, play and risk-reward balance in for example, corporate games, they have to guard against the game running away from the true goals of the initiative. So the weaving of gaming principles into work activities leads back to the same problem detailed above: If a designer layers one motivation on top of another, one risks distracting the gamer from the true motivation. I am not sure if including the elements of a) actually make things any less risky for the designer? For example, in 'Foldit' the protein folding game, the game achievement WAS the real life (for want of a better term) achievement. So this is an example of what you are saying. However, Foldit was quite successful because, even if a gamer were distracted by the game mechanics, they could contribute despite their own inclinations. Fortunately, one goal of Foldit was garnering intelligence on how humans approached this problem.

2. You say, paraphrased by me "To truly match the needs of the user, there needs to be a game that is rich in opportunity for the user to find relevance."
I think this point needs more unpacking. What kinds of relevance can be found? Identity? Simple or complex achievement? Fun?
I think that each 'relevance' of which there are many, may need extensive crafting and customizing. Do we already have methods to craft these? If so, what might they be? Are they different for each type of relevance?

Thanks again for this post. As you can see, it's great because it triggers lots of other thoughts!

March 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWebfoot

I agree it is about understanding the end user. This just makes sense as it comes down to the goals of your organization. If your org is sales focused then the reward should be increased commission for sales people. not virtual badges. Which I guess is the difference between gamification and "meaningful gamification"?

Gamification, loyalty, rewards - they are all one in the same. And I understand the idea of gamification as a term but it is flawed. People play games because they are fun. There is no way adding these game mechanics to regular products will create even remotely the same emotion as playing a game.

And in the end we are simply rewarding users for their behavior and I would way rather have a discount off of a Subway sandwich than a virtual badge.

Am I missing the point?

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChaz Green


No, you're not missing the point. With meaningful gamification, I'm trying to push people to go beyond rewards for behavior. Instead, the goal of meaningful gamification is to help people find personal connections to the real-world setting. In fact, I suggest that we do this without rewards, and work to create engaging experiences.

One of my papers - talks about how to do this using the same strategies that museums use. Museums work to help people find relevance in different topics, and they don't offer rewards for doing so. There are lessons to be learned there.

March 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterScott Nicholson

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