Gamification Definition


What is Gamification?

Gamification is an emerging innovation that has its intellectual origins from the video gaming industry. Games have always played a deep cultural role in human civilisation and recent years have seen gaming technology and design reach new levels of sophistication and mainstream acceptance. The result is a move unprecedented in scale and manner to consciously use game design elements and thinking beyond creating engaging sources of entertainment to enrich society.

We believe that there are two foundational principles of game-based thinking that is essential for understanding Gamification: Games as inspirers of methods to solving problems beyond entertainment and as the creators of psychological outcomes during entertainment to be aspired to. We propose an adaptation of (Marczewski, 2015)’s definition to the following: “The use of game design metaphors” “to create more game-like experiences”.

“Game design metaphors” are defined as lessons, elements and strategies applied to non-entertainment contexts (Marczewski, 2015) and (Werbach, 2012)’s Game Element Hierarchy provides a Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive (MECE) framework to cover the variants. His starting premise is that all gamified products or games can be formed and understood by a set of game elements that serve as experiential building blocks which designers can pull apart and rebuild their projects in accordance with their needs. These can be classified in the hierarchy based on degrees of abstraction starting in descending order from dynamics, big-picture aspects of the system that cannot be directly designed, mechanics, basic psychological processes that drive behaviour, and components, specific instantiations of mechanics and dynamics.

“Game-like states” are psychological outcomes (Huotari and Hamari, 2012) of optimised engagement and motivation that are associated with entertainment games (Marczewski, 15) and lead to behavioural (Huotari and Hamari, 2012) and ideological outcomes. (Chou, 2015)’s Octalysis Framework is similarly MECE. His starting premise is that the objective of gamification is the maximisation of motivation for desired behavioural outcomes through the use of 8 core drives (Meaning, Accomplishment, Empowerment, Ownership, Scarcity, Unpredictability, Avoidance). These can alternatively be classified into black hat (negative) – white hat (positive) and left brain (extrinsic tendency) – right brain (intrinsic tendency).

The “inspirational” aspect of the definition is important to our conception for a number of reasons. Firstly, through the specific mention of site of the innovation, we see that the practice deals primarily in areas where entertainment is not the primary function. Gamification is not centred on the entertainment games industry and its practitioners. It is about understanding the pioneering work (Chou, 2015) these industries have undertaken with motivational design and applying this in areas where entertainment is not the main function.

Secondly, it conceptualises the specific innovation from the literature on games and play that we wish to examine. Products that do not have non-entertainment user objectives as the main focus, such as Advergames, or which promote playful activities characterised by free-form, expression and exploration rather than gameful activities with rules and competitive strife towards goals cannot be defined as gamification. Neither can innovations that are defined by the expansion of game-elements to different mediums such as Augmented Reality Games, Alternate Reality Games and Location Based Games. Gamification is the transfer of game elements beyond the traditional field of entertainment either as explicit gamification (or serious gaming), by creating a game with non-entertainment objectives, or implicit gamification, by integrating elements into existing non-entertainment platforms. (Chou, 2015)

Finally, it emphasises that gamification encompasses the full spectrum of metaphors that is used to make an engaging experience rather than the ones that are most prominently know; Points, Badges and Leaderboards (Chou, 2015). A limited use of the spectrum is not possible in serious games and critics are justified in proclaiming that this is a superficial and unsustainable understanding of game based innovation (Bogost, 2011) (McGonigal, 2011) (Robertson, 2010). However, it should not be taken an indictment of implicit gamification, but rather as feedback on how it should mature.

The “aspirational“ aspect likewise serves a similar purpose. Firstly, it explores the broad theoretical reasons for the effectiveness of gamification as an innovation by exploring its relationship to the video gaming industry. The industry’s uniqueness stems from the singular manner in which its practitioners achieve success; creating intrinsically motivational products that serve no other function beyond itself yet engages people on a significant financial and chronological level (Chou, 2015). Although intrinsic motivations are not generated exclusively through games, decades of singularly practicing consistent, intrinsic motivation have led practitioners to master the art of “engagement for the sake of engagement” (Chou, 2015) and allow their industry to set unprecedented standards for motivational states. Other industries can aspire to but never surpass these standards as they have to balance functional demands in addition to human engagement demands (Chou, 2015). Nevertheless, it is this aspiration that gives confidence and demand for game metaphors from the video games industry to be used in other non-entertainment-centric areas despite the difficulty in initial design

This also leads on to our second point on how it makes the Gamification practice more distinguishable as an innovation and a profession. Gamification is not, as critics allude, simply repackaging existing engagement practices, such as loyalty programs, under an attractive new framework for marketing or branding purposes (Economist, 2012) (Bogost, 2011); it is an aspiration to engage and enrich people beyond the typically functional design of reality (Chou, 2015) by being receptive to the idea that the study of the games industry is uniquely effective in showing both the standard and the way of motivational design. The industry ties together aspects of disparate fields such as game design, game dynamics, motivational psychology, behavioural economics, user experience and interface, neurobiology and computer science business systems in order to consciously and systematically create systems that effectively engage and motivate. By reverse engineering the approach, it gives the intellectual understanding and confidence to replicate such psychological states in other fields in a manner distinct to and superior from alternative approaches in motivational design.

Finally, it provides a resonating narrative of the innovation’s long run potential to society that has relevance and traction amongst a wider audience. The focus of making reality more game-like should be less about seeing game elements outside their natural habitat and more about the shift towards a more engaging and enriching society that is optimally designed for human motivation and intrinsic enrichment rather than one that motivates people based on functional requirements, extrinsic motivation and hedonism. (McGonigal, 2011) (Chou, 2015). This overcomes a number of practice limitations that arise from conceptualising gamification solely via the inspirational aspect. It moves away from the negative associations made with games towards more relatable conceptualisations that appeals to us such engagement and enrichment. Moreover, it serves to build bridges between implicit gamifiers and serious games practitioners by saying that the differences they may have in methodology are subjected to their common goal of systematically creating better realities and experiences. The focus on the bigger, long-term vision of designing a more engaging, happy and enriching society unites us despite short term frictions caused by external misconceptions and internal diversity.

With thanks to GamFed Steering Committee member Joshua Wong for putting the above definition together.



Bogost, I. (2011) ‘Gamification is bullshit’, Ian Bogost, 8 August. Available at: (Accessed: 22 March 2016).

Chou, Y.-K. (2015) Actionable Gamification: Beyond points, badges and Leaderboards. Edited by Jerry Fuqua and Wendy Yuan. United States: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.

Huotari, K. and Hamari, J. (2012) ‘A definition for gamification: Anchoring gamification in the service marketing literature’, Electronic Markets, . doi: 10.1007/s12525-015-0212-z.

Marczewski, A. (2015) Even Ninja Monkeys Like to Play: Gamification, Game Thinking & Motivational Design. Lightning Source UK Ltd. Milton Keynes UK.

McGonigal, J. (2011) Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. 2nd edn. New York: Penguin Group (USA).

McGonigal, J. (2011) We don’t need no stinkin’ badges: How to re-invent reality without Gamification [SGS Gamification]. Available at: (Accessed: 23 March 2016).

Robertson, M. (2010) ‘Can’t play, won’t play.’, Hide and Seek – Inventing new kinds of play, 6 October. Available at: (Accessed: 23 March 2016).

The Economist (2012) More than just a game. Available at: (Accessed: 22 March 2016).

Werbach, K. and Hunter, D. (2012) For the win: How game thinking can revolutionize your business. Philadelphia: Perseus Distribution Services.