When gaming is a serious matter, game on!

Gamification is a craft that allows teachers to use all the fun and engaging elements of  games into any real-world classroom situation, which is supposed to be a non-game context.

We all know that our millennial students get easily distracted. They have a smart device in their pockets that is constantly buzzing and striving for their attention. They are technologically literate, they use social media profusely, and they want to be part of something larger than themselves, part of a winning team that is struggling to find the way to the final screen.  But they do not want to do it the simple way.  Of course not, they cherish threats and mystery along the way. As gamers, they already tackle challenges , from complex decision-making to implementing a strategy for the long term win. While students today seem to be a bit apathetic towards school, their attitude towards games is always positive. As gamers, they can face any opposition, and they are always willing to take risks and are resilient in the face of the inevitable failures that come up with games.

What if we can use all that energy in a learning experience?   Game creators have spent decades learning how to master motivation and engagement and we, as teachers, can profit from that experience and turn it into a valuable teaching approach.

Let’s start by analysing why games are so engaging and influential.

Consider this formula:

Challenge + achievement= pleasure

Games have no other purpose than to give enjoyment and pleasure to the ones playing them. It’s true that there are often objectives in games, such as killing the evil character or saving the princess  but those are all excuses to simply keep the player happy and entertained.

Almost every game is fun because it appeals to certain core drives within us that motivate us to adopt certain attitudes in life. Different types of energies push us forward differently: some in an inspiring and empowering way, while some others in a manipulative and obsessive manner. To find which ones guide us is always insightful, not only to learn a lesson but to face daily activities. Anyone who wants to understand how the brain works should consider the minute analysis of these drives.

What are the eight energies that push us forward in games and in life?

1) Epic meaning and calling, which makes us believe that we are doing something meaningful. A symptom of this is a person who devotes a lot of his time to keeping a forum alive or helping to create things for an entire community

2) Development and accomplishment, which  is the internal drive of making progress, developing skills, and eventually overcoming challenges.

3) Empowerment and feedback, which is the force that engages us into a creative process where we have to repeatedly figure things out and try different combinations.

4) Ownership and possession, which is the energy we feel when we own something. We can use this energy to accumulate wealth or power.  Does it ring a bell?

5) Social Influence . This drive integrates all the social elements that motivate people, such as mentorship, acceptance, social responses, companionship, as well as competition and envy.

6) Scarcity and impatience. This is the force we feel when we want something badly because we can’t have it.

7) Unpredictability and curiosity. This is a harmless drive that we feel when we want to find out what will happen next. If you don’t know what’s going to happen, your brain is engaged and you think about it often.

8) Loss and avoidance. This core drive is based upon the avoidance of something negative happening. On a larger scale, it could be to avoid admitting that everything we did up to this point was useless because we now want to quit.

Now that we understand the drives that motivate us in life we can transfer them into the motivations our students can find when they play a game.  Therefore, we should take a closer look at the design elements of games and think about intentional and meaningful ways to apply them to our teaching. Games make us think, socialize, develop strategies and skills, analyse situations, solve problems, deal with frustration, move forward. By gaming we feel empowered, powerful and driven. Not that bad, if we consider the 21st century skills that we are supposed to boost in our students.

If we think like game designers and apply game mechanics to our classroom we can radically shift the way our students behave, act and achieve learning objectives. Difficult challenge indeed!


So gamification is about transforming the classroom environment and regular activities into a game. But, let’s not confuse game based learning or just playing games with gamification.

Creates games for didactic use Uses game mechanics: points-levels-badges(PBL) Free and voluntary
Achieves learning objectives with designed context. Achieves objectives through an action. Winning or losing is part of the game but it doesn’t have any consequence.

Mechanics and dynamics

Now that we are in. let’s  analyse what game mechanics we can use to plan a gamified class. In order to do that we have to consider a combination of rules and tools to produce a game.  Let’s have a look at these ones:

  • Dice rolling
  • Negotiation
  • Partnership
  • Territory building
  • Route building
  • Secret roles
  • Collection
  • Simulation
  • Trading
  • Solving mysteries
  • Voting
  • Challenging
  • Bidding
  • Betting
  • Asking for help/lives
  • Speculation
  • Press your luck
  • PBL ( points – badges – leaderboards
  • Powers
  • Progress bars
  • Accumulation
  • Guessing
  • Avatar creation

When gamifying a class, teachers also have to evaluate the emotional response of the students.  Taking the core drives involved in life and in games, why not consider the inclusion of the following dynamics: progress, achievement, confidence and  belonging charts.

Steps to gamify a class

  1. General planning:
    • Objective: what’s the goal?
    • How will you get stds involved in the game? Will you tell them a story? Will you write the rules?
    • What evidence will you collect? Experience Points? Stars? Will they have a value?
    • How are points or badges earned? They should reinforce positive skills and good behaviour in order to be valuable assets in the class.
    • How will you record the points or badges collected? Will there be a leaderboard in your classroom? Will you use an online tool?
  1. Design your game.
    • Use what is available: course books, cardboard, colour paper, etc.
    • Gamify one aspect at first (Homework. Creation of individual quests)
    • Gamify personalized learning (it allows students to work on a skill until they master it)
    • Allow students to create badges. They can do it online.
    • Establish a marketplace. Buy, sell, swap, trade with each other and with you. Swap a badge for an open book test.
    • Allow levelling up. If students have mastered the topic, offer fun and engaging extension work.
    • Grading (re contextualize assessment) Progress can be in levels counting up instead of going down. If one student gets to a certain level the whole group gets a reward or a bonus point If they all get to a certain level they have a special bonus as a group
  1. Add components of the game to help your students reach a goal.
    • Mystery bonus
    • Challenges
    • Coupons/tickets
    • Quests
    • Scoreboards
  2. Just dive in….to infinity and beyond.

Educational goals

According to your educational goal you can create different environments or worlds either realistic or fictional and add avatars and leaderboard profiles and, of course, you can encourage or guide research on the environment chosen. The students can show the results of their research through power point presentations or videos depending on the age and technological abilities of the students.

Ideas for the environments could be: The Middle Ages, Ancient England, the future, a dystopian universe, a science fiction film.

Think of the game from start to finish:

  • How many students do you have in the class? What roles are they going to have in the game?
  • How does it start? When does it finish?
  • Who or what is the enemy?
  • Create activities or missions that support auditory, kinaesthetic visual and tactile learners.
  • Their progress has to include successes and failures.
  • The game can include competition among them.
  • At the end of the unit or term they can be the awarded the points or badges.
  • At the end of the year there should be a celebration where they can be awarded a certificate or given a small prize.

Gamified classrooms arent’ all sunshine and roses

It is true that gamification is an very important way of triggering motivation. It encourages active participation and emotional response but, of course, it has some drawbacks.

  • It can be expensive
  • It entails extensive planning
  • It involves additional work to keep track of assignments, tasks and progress or the gamified class.
  • It can’t be used in every learning situation.
  • It can lead to students only doing things for points, or can lead to unnecessary competitions.


The more we understand the psychology behind our core drives, the better we will be using behavioural design into our classes, thus giving our students the opportunity to put into practice the 21st century skills required for success, accomplishment and empowerment. 

A gamified class gives students freedom of interpretation and freedom to experiment, fail and start again. Furthermore, it encourages students’ curiosity and creativity and a sense of ownership over their learning. It can’t fail!

Lic. Marcela Azua

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