From simply having to tick a box to prove you’re not a robot when it started to having to identify traffic lights, crosswalks, and storefronts in an image grid; how CAPTCHA has evolved to keep humans engaged helping teach AI is a prime example of applying game mechanics in a non-game context to promote a desired outcome.
Games versus Gamification: What is the difference?
You’ve probably stumbled across these two terms before: Games and Gamification. While it may seem interchangeable and just simple semantics – don’t get me started on Games-Based Learning and Simulations – confusing these different approaches can have costly results. So, what is the difference? To explain this, let me share my own personal experience.
I’ve been playing Counterstrike, a popular FPS game on PC, since it came out in the early 2000s. Of course, a lot has changed since the 2000s, but I still find myself playing the game in its 2021 form every other weekend or so today. That is 20 years of emotion, experience, and perseverance on this game. That’s nearly twice longer than my experience working in Talent Development. We can save the discussion on whether this is a good or bad thing for a different day. The bigger question is this: What if we could harness that same level of dedication that I exhibited while playing a game into non-game experiences, like recruitment marketing, facilitating a course, or even engaging someone in webinars? What if game elements and mechanics could be applied to non-game situations to generate the same level of engagement and drive motivation? This is the concept behind gamification.
Gamification, as we know it today, has only taken root in the late 2010s but for most of us, although we’re probably not fully aware of it, have experienced some type of gamification. You’re probably earning points or coins on your favorite shopping app, or using a fitness app on your smartphone that encourages you to create goals and track progress against these goals. Think points, badges, leaderboards, and incentives. These aren’t exactly games in the traditional sense, but you could easily see how game elements and mechanics have been incorporated to encourage engagement. It is not just activity for the sake of activities in the form of icebreakers or energizers (which are, admittedly, still one of the most common misconceptions of talent professionals and similar occupations). Rather, it is using game elements to require action from a learner, client, or target audience that lead to relevant outcomes while navigating through some form of risk.
Gamification is a design sensibility. There are different types of gamifications, and the key is to be strategic in adding game elements. You can apply game elements, mechanics, and game thinking to change your content to make it more game-like in the form of challenges, characters or stories. Think of how the element of story is frequently used in teaching math or algebra problems in the academe. In contrast to content gamification is structural gamification. This is when we apply game elements to drive learners, clients, or audiences through content with no alteration or changes to the original content. The content does not become game-like, only the structure around the content. Think of how you become willing to watch ads on YouTube just to continue watching the video, or going through 30-second ads just to get an extra life on Candy Crush.
So, what is the difference between Games and Gamification? How much game elements, mechanics, and thinking are added to an activity or content before it becomes a game? There are no hard and fast rules on when a gamification experience changes into a game. The goal is not to create an entire game or put in game elements to your entire portfolio or project. The goal is to base it on the needs of your organization and how to meet them. Implementing a gamification strategy based on heavily misunderstood concepts and without careful consideration of what it is not can easily backfire. We draw on the human need to collect, compete, and succeed. The ability to apply gamification correctly, has the potential to be a game changer. It may be game over, but everyone wins.