Evolution of the “Good” vs “Bad” Gamification Chart, PART 1.

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’m working on the 1st volume of a set of books devoted to gamification in learning.

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion about what gamification is and isn’t, and an LOT of marketing sales-speak that mostly describes the superficial aspects. I define gamification as the use of game design elements in a non-game context.

This chart is meant to offer a summary comparison of good and bad ways to implement gamification in learning settings.

It bears repeating that much of what people are calling gamification really isn’t new at all.
A lot of teachers already use various aspects of what I call gamification, so just because it is listed here, it doesn’t mean that this approach is exclusive to gamified approaches. In FACT, that is part of the message I am trying to get across.

Gamification is a handy umbrella term for a related collection of educational strategies, new and old, that have identifiable counterparts in games, both digital and analog.

This is my very first rough draft.



An esteemed colleague, Ian Schreiber took the time to comment on my first draft, and I am posting that critique in its entirety here.

In subsequent posts, I will address all of Ian’s comments and publish new drafts of the chart.

Engaging critique mode…

Point values for quests is unclear – everything in the 1000s doesn’t seem arbitrary, sounds like it’s a system like any other, just might be an unbalanced system if value is not commensurate with effort/skill.

Scoring system – the “right” and “wrong” columns aren’t mutually exclusive. Most non-gamified classes have specific “slots” for assignments but still add points up for a final grade anyway, and if a student gets (say) 120% on the final exam via extra credit, those extra points can cover deficits in other areas.

Quests – line is repeated twice, restated but saying pretty much the same thing on both lines as far as I can tell.

Competition – this depends a lot on the class, doesn’t it? Some students thrive on competition, others hate it. Rather than saying that competition is always “bad” how about following the advice from Quests and say that it’s better to have a variety (individual vs. self, co-op vs. system, team vs. team, FFA)?

Leaderboards – if you’re going to say competition vs. classmates is bad from the previous line, shouldn’t there be NO leaderboard at all? I’d imagine it would be demoralizing as hell if you look at the rankings and see yourself at the very bottom, or even just lower on the rankings than you think you should be. Wouldn’t a MOBA-like system be better, e.g. the bottom two-thirds of the class is “Bronze,” next sixth is “Silver” and so on, so that the mediocre students can all still tell themselves that they’re part of the majority at least? Also worth noting that in the US, federal FERPA rules would probably prohibit posting actual class grades publicly, so this would go beyond “bad gamification practice” and into the realm of “illegal.”

Narrative – I’m not sure that a completely nonexistent narrative is necessarily a bad thing. If the material itself is presented in an engaging way that also shows it’s neat AND useful, do I really need to bring a fictional story into the mix? Sure, if this is a class about writing, narrative, or composition, then practicing what you preach makes a lot of sense… but now we’re saying that math teachers must not only be excellent at math but also excellent at story arcs? That seems unfair, especially when games themselves often don’t need a narrative to be enjoyable and engaging (no one plays Tetris or Chess for the gripping storyline).

Badges – additionally would say, these have to be handled very carefully in the first place. If they’re worth extra points towards a class grade then they’d fall more into Quests and this should already be covered there. If these are just given out for props and status, that status also has to be desired by students. It’s like giving out scratch-and-sniff stickers: if done well, it brings the students back to their childhood with a warm nostalgic feeling that’s appreciated and puts grins on faces; if done poorly, it infantilizes the students and makes them feel like you’re treating them like they’re in kindergarten and not college. These are also something that, like narrative, may not strictly be necessary, and some classes may do better without it at all.

Path to End – absolutely agreed on this one, but you do have to note that it can be a LOT of extra work for an already time-strapped instructor, so either leaving some wiggle room open or some tips on how to do this without making grading take 3x as long would be useful, because I’m sure you don’t want an instructor who already tries hard but is overloaded with classes to feel like you’re shaming them just because they don’t have the time to implement everything 110%.

Overall comments – a lot of these things go beyond “gamified classroom” and are good practice even for normal classes (like offering a variety of assignments and allowing re-dos) – and you can do those things even without framing your class as an RPG. If the scope of this document is specifically people trying to gamify their classrooms, some of this stuff may be useful but too broad to include (or alternately, you could reframe this entire document as just “best practices for teaching” and remove the gamification angle entirely – I mean, it’s not like non-gamified classes don’t already have a point system for assessment).

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