Gamification - The playful world


Why games motivate and how to use them

Playing has been an elementary area of life since childhood in order to acquire and develop basic skills such as social competence. While almost incidentally knowledge is deepened, independence and creativity are developed, the game also shapes our attitude towards demanding situations. Therefore, it is not surprising that the combination of playful elements also in adulthood contributes to facing motivated and open-minded tasks and challenges. The gamification methodology has been applying this principle for years in a wide variety of areas and cultural institutions can also benefit from it. In order to develop suitable conceptual approaches on the basis of digital solutions, KULDIG is constantly researching and experimenting.

Typical gameplay and unfamiliar to games

Gamification is the use of typical elements of a game in a context other than that of the game. The logic behind this is simple: people love to play. But in daily life, they are often confronted with tasks that give them little pleasure. Gamification starts at this point and tries to make these activities more playful with different mechanisms, so that users approach tasks more proactively and with more motivation. The term gamification was first used in 2008 in a blog article by Brett Terrill. At the Social Gaming Summit, a conference for persuasive games, he wrote the following:

“In conversations, one of the biggest topics […] is the gameification of the web. The basic idea is taking game mechanics and applying to other web properties to increase engagement.”

Even though gamification was described as such for the first time here, it is by no means a new phenomenon. As early as 2002, Nick Pelling designed game-like user interfaces for commercial electronic devices such as ATMs and mobile phones. In 2005, Rajat Paharia founded Bunchball, the first modern gamification platform, designed to increase engagement on the website by incorporating game-like building blocks. Gamification is primarily used for customer retention, but also employee motivation and performance improvement are possible goals.


Performance motivation and what it means

Already in early childhood the basics for concentration, creativity and independence are developed in a playful way. Performance motivation is a learned personality trait that is fundamentally developed in the first three years of life and is difficult to change later. Nevertheless, there are possibilities to positively influence both the willingness to make an effort and the situational working conditions in order to sustainably increase the motivation to perform. The term performance motivation comes from the Latin “motivum “, which means motive or drive. This is why people often speak of a willingness to make an effort. Children learn the characteristic of performance motivation in their socio-cultural environment. It is anchored very firmly in their personality and therefore expresses itself in activating or inhibiting attitudes and behaviour. However, the extent to which performance motivation is pronounced can only be observed when parents, kindergartens or even schools make performance demands that apply not only to individuals but to all. This situational and individual examination of the performance requirements shows whether a child reacts with hope of success or fear of failure. Depending on their expectations of themselves, they are more, less or not at all motivated to perform.

Formation of expectations

The formation of expectations is strongly dependent on the parenting style and practices in the family. If children experience themselves as the cause of their behaviour from the very first year of life, this has a positive effect on development and performance motivation. The experience of having achieved something through one’s own efforts thus strengthens the hope of success. While independent children are more likely to be motivated to perform, strongly protected children are less likely. Praise and encouragement additionally promote the confidence in success and thus the willingness to strive for a goal.

Balancing different performance motivations

In the beginning the school has mainly compensatory tasks. Pedagogical concepts should give all pupils the chance to experience their own abilities through factual and problem-related tasks. Individualised forms of teaching promote intrinsic motivation, i.e. learning for the sake of the cause. On the other hand, learning conditions such as performance competition, note pressure and failure experiences have negative effects.
Performance motivation as a characteristic is relatively stable, but not unchangeable. Personal and situational influences can have positive or negative effects. These include sympathy or antipathy, comparisons with others, permanent over or under demands, suggestions from the environment and also personal interests.


From childhood to competition

From childhood on, people learn all the relevant basics for an independent life in a playful way. Thus the play is strongly connected with the learning process. A transfer of playful elements to the learning process leads to higher success and increased learning success. Gamification can be used flexibly to keep the joy of learning in adult life and to make the approach of learning more interesting. At the same time, the human psyche is evolutionarily designed to compete with other individuals. This means that preference is given to activities in which comparisons can be made with others and thus measured against them.

This competitive thinking is understood as an attitude or behaviour that is determined by the tendency to see in others first and foremost a competitor to be defeated. However, it is not about perfecting one’s own abilities or developing talents, but only about being better than the other in order to win. Competitive thinking is already innate. Even children compare and measure themselves in play. At school, behaviour is encouraged by grades and competitions and also continues in the education system and the world of work. The competition thinking is to be regarded under no circumstances only negatively. It provides individual support in determining one’s own position and in classifying oneself in society. What has been happening primarily in games and sporting competitions so far is also being applied and used digitally. Through the inner play and competition drive, people are always on the hunt for success. These can be effectively integrated into gamification applications. In order to be able to create and provide effective and useful offers, however, it is necessary to be able to fall back on different mechanisms and elements.

Mechanisms and elements of Gamification

The mechanisms around gamification are based on three different factors: gambling, social interaction and the pursuit of reputation, i.e. success. In gamification, these factors are bundled and implemented in various elements:

  • Quests (Puzzle or diligence tasks) Quests are tasks that the player must complete alone or in a group. Once a quest has been mastered, a reward is often triggered. The tasks serve to guide the players through an area or the game. In order to make them more interesting, stories are often told, such as heroic deeds, which are integrated into the challenges. This makes them an important part of the gameplay. They navigate users in what they need to do or grasp in order to make progress. A distinction is made between different types of quests. Some tasks, such as daily quests or weekly quests, can be repeated periodically. Others are important missions within the game (main quests) or serve as side quests. Smaller puzzles with a fun factor should make learning varied. Therefore they are usually designed in such a way that the player gains experience through them and can solve more and more complex tasks.

  • Progress indicator and status of the player Whether it’s about learning, work or the game itself. Players want to know what status they have reached and what progress they are making. The success of the game can be displayed in different ways. Purely rationally in percent or points or in the form of awards, so-called badges. These awards can be displayed in the form of small graphics, titles or images, which are linked to the respective progress. All achievements can be divided into smaller units (levels). Based on the achievements of a player, they can be made visible to the player. At the end of a level, players can be tested again in the form of quests. This allows them to apply what they have learned and playfully identify where they still need to learn. This method is particularly useful in the area of e-learning.

  • Ranking and high score lists The inclusion of a ranking allows players to see what progress other users are making. This allows them to compare themselves with other users and to classify themselves in the performance spectrum, because a classification according to game success creates competitive conditions that appeal to and actively integrate the competitive thinking of the players. Rankings are used above all in pure game applications. For this, however, it is necessary to be able to compare the achievements, for example through awards and badges.
    Highscore lists work according to a similar principle, showing only a fixed number of the best players (Top 10). In learning areas this principle is often used to avoid demotivation.

  • Transparency of the results and epic meaning In order to encourage users to solve quests, the tasks must make sense to them. To make this possible, incentives such as rewards can be created to motivate players. The greater the incentive, the more desirable it becomes to solve the task. In the area of e-learning, motivation can already lie in knowledge transfer. In the case of a pure fun factor without reference to the learning objects, however, a different player stimulation is necessary. This means that enough stimulation must be created to carry out a certain action. Especially if the players know the possible results of their action, this can significantly increase the motivation for action. Incentives can include awards or badges. Since players also act goal-oriented, they can be motivated by meaningful goals, i.e. an Epic Meaning. In this context, Epic Meaning involves working on something great and desirable for the individual player. Integration into a group can also support Epic Meaning, because epic goals can usually not be achieved alone.

  • Feedback If a quest is completed by the user, his actions should be visibly evaluated. There must be as little time as possible between action and feedback in order not to impair the fun factor and the motivation of the player. This means that results should best be displayed immediately, but it is also possible to call up results later. Through immediate feedback, the player can immediately use the experience gained to avoid any future negative feedback and to increase the positive feedback. The feedback can also be displayed in the form of rankings and high score lists.


Preferences of different player types

The mechanisms and elements indicate what incentives a game can have and how they work. But that alone is not enough. Each person is individually motivated by other things and must be addressed differently. Therefore it is questionable for whom when which mechanics and which elements are relevant to achieve a meaningful gamification integration. These preferences and learning preferences differ individually. In 2003 Richard Bartle published “Designing Virtual Worlds” in order to get a more uniform picture, by which the players can be classified into different categories. He defines four different player types, also known as Richard Bartle Player Types. His classification is based on observations of social interaction between players in virtual online role-playing games. The interactions could be measured and mapped in a way that allowed Bartle to objectively assess and classify the players’ motivation and fun.

Based on the results he published the following player taxonomy, which is based on the characterization of four types. Although many players have characteristics from several categories, they usually have a dominant player type that shapes their behavior.

  • Achiever For achievers, the status and points scored in the game count. They want to be able to show others what progress they are making. Therefore, they collect awards in order to be able to exhibit them. Richard Bartle estimates that about 10 percent of all players are Achievers.

  • Explorer Explorers want to see new things and uncover secrets. For them, prizes and points are of secondary importance. Researchers have no problem with repetitive tasks as long as they can open up a new area of the game. About 10 percent of the players correspond to this type of player. These players search for secret passages and surprises in the game. They are satisfied without having to brag about new achievements to others.

  • Socializer Socializers make up the majority of players and are usually represented with a share of about 80 percent. Socializers enjoy the game by interacting with other players. They enjoy working together to achieve greater goals than they would alone. Whatever the purpose of the game, it’s important to Socializer that it makes sense for them to join forces to accomplish tasks. That’s why this type of player doesn’t feel comfortable in tough competition and has comparatively little ambition.

  • Killers Killers refer to an ominous sounding player type. They are similar to successful people because they are also driven by collecting points and achieving success status. The difference, however, lies in the desire to see others lose. Killers are extremely competitive types of players who are motivated primarily by winning. According to Bartle’s research, however, killers are only represented in a very small percentage of cases. About 1 percent of all players belong to this type.

Depending on the type of player, different motivation categories can be identified that determine why players get involved in a game. If you understand why people play, you can design applications that meet their needs and can be expected to be more successful in gameplay implementations.

Gamification in cultural institutions

Playful learning is attractive. Not only for children, but also for adults of all ages. In addition to analog offers, Gamification can also be integrated into digital applications. Visiting cultural institutions can be combined with additional learning elements, which can be consumed more attractively by some visitor groups. In the context of playful learning, information gained in this way can be better memorised and additional background knowledge conveyed that is not directly apparent from the exhibition itself. Gamification can be used individually to make content accessible and experienceable for specific target groups. Children can thus be provided with other elements of support than adults. Groups have other content than individuals.

However, it should not be forgotten that gamification applications are only intended to enrich, not replace, cultural offerings. Therefore an exact analysis and conception is necessary to determine in which areas gamification is worthwhile, which player types should be addressed and what should be taught. In addition to quizzes, mini-games and search games, there are countless possibilities to use applications effectively. But every house needs a solution that is usually as individual as it is itself. KULDIG is constantly researching new solutions for complex applications, among other things to develop special modules for the AppCreator, which allow an individual creation and integration of gamification elements. The aim is to achieve the best possible result for each house, which is used not only by individual users but by as many as possible.

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