With the commencement of the digital revolution in the 1980s, so came the need for a plethora of new words in the English language lexicon including, for example, the internet, email and a host of other words commencing with the prefix ‘e’ as an abbreviation for the word electronic, such as eBooks, and ecommerce, etc. We were then introduced to ‘social media’ with Facebook and Instagram, while we also learned to ‘tweet’ thanks to Twitter. Of course, not everything was a success, with platforms such as MySpace and Friendster biting the dust, but also paving the way for the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn.

New technology means more to learn

One of the problems, per se, with the introduction of new technology, is that there can be a great deal to learn about it, about its potential, and what it can do for you. For those driving the revolution, they would learn as they go along, while those still in full-time education would find appropriate changes to their curricula. Those who struggled most to accept and make the most of the technological revolution were those who were presented with new products and functionalities and little to guide them save for ‘word of mouth tutoring’ from those friends whom one would deem to be ‘tech savvy’. 

New technology requires a raft of new words and terms 

Of course, the need for a whole new range of words that are solely applicable to the use of this new technology requires considerable thought and effort, as many of the words would need to also describe an action or a product. For example, while mobile phone spoke for itself, ‘smartphone’ was not an immediate option but more one that was derived over time and according to Cambridge Wireless, the first device to use the term “smartphone” in its marketing literature was the Ericsson R380. Then there was a word attributed to Facebook users, which was ‘unfriend’ though one ought to be totally honest here and say that the word did exist in the English language, but here the term was specific to Facebook. In fact, according to Reuters news agency,  “unfriend” was named the 2009 word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary, chosen from a list of finalists with a tech-savvy bent. Then there is another word, which is credited to Nick Pelling, a British programmer and inventor, which is ‘gamification’.

What is the definition of gamification?

According to BI Worldwide, “Gamification is adding game mechanics into non-game environments, like a website, online community, learning management system or business’ intranet to increase participation. The goal of gamification is to engage with consumers, employees and partners to inspire collaborate, share and interact.”

One other quote on the topic of gamification sums it up perfectly: “gamification is exciting because it promises to make the hard stuff in life fun”.

In simple terms, gamification can be used to disseminate information, facts, educational content in such a way as to ensure that the person enjoys the process of being the recipient of such information.

Gamification didn’t begin when the word was first coined

Curiously, the process of gamification existed a few years before the word entered the English language, but it is still a process which was yet another part of the technological revolution. In fact, two of the first recognised instances of gamification date back to 1981 when Thomas W. Malone released Toward a Theory of Intrinsically Motivating Instruction and Heuristics for Designing Enjoyable User Interfaces, two articles which outlined what could be learned from computer games and applied to other areas. The only thing that was missing was the actual term ‘gamification’. Furthermore, in 1999 Stephen W. Draper released a paper which suggested that user enjoyment should be a major element of all software design.

According to Knolskape, “The gamification field started to take flight in late 2010, and it took its roots in the idea of using game elements and game designs in non-game contexts to reach various objectives while increasing user engagement and motivation.”

Gamification in the field of education

In this particular instance, we are talking about the education of school children, as opposed to education in the broader terms of the transference of knowledge to all generations. The advantages of using gamification to educate children are multiple, from both a practical as well as an educational perspective.

To begin with, excluding education in areas of extreme poverty, most children are wholly adapted to multiple technological gadgets which are now part of everyday life. For example, in the USA, according to Child Mind, by the age of 10, 42% of children have a smartphone, by the age of 12 that percentage has risen to 75% and by the age of 14, 92% of children have a smartphone. In addition, according to Statista, in 2020, 75% of children in the USA had access to a tablet at home, that figure being much higher in the classroom.

Second, portable electronic devices (PEDs) have become today’s ‘childminder’, nanny, or surrogate parent. Teens in America spend an average of up to seven hours a day on ‘screentime’, that figure excluding time spent in front of a screen during school hours.

Third, children are primed to learn. Here we are not talking about academic content, but learning about life, society, what is morally right and wrong.

The advantage of gamification in the classroom over traditional teaching

While traditional teaching gets results, it only works best with those students who are already committed to learning and who are keen to do well at school. However, there is a significant percentage of students who do not share these same desires. For these students, school is ‘dull, boring, a waste of time’, etc. 

We have identified seven key areas where gamification in the classroom can be extremely advantageous over traditional teaching methods:

  • Many students fear failure, so they don’t even try. With gamification, students are already conditioned to ‘failure’ when playing video games, so the problem is removed.
  • Students are more aware of how well they are doing with gamification – progress bars, points scored, progress on a map are all great ways of encouraging further interaction.
  • Gamification increases motivation. A 2006 study of video gaming identified the three key motivational factors that encouraged players to keep trying, which include a sense of achievement, social factors such as building teams while game-playing, and players tend to become more immersed in the topic.
  • Gamification is presented in a familiar format, so from the very onset students have a greater sense of confidence and greater control over how well they progress.
  • Gamification is known to improve cognitive development. A 2013 study by Blumberg & Fisch showed that games which encourage critical thinking and problem solving can improve students’ processing and information retention abilities. You will find that today, most educational games fit into this category.
  • Students can have the option to personalise their learning experience. When you think about it, how many students pay real money to improve the look of, say, a personal avatar? More to the point, why do they do it? The answer is to increase their personal connection. With gamification, students can set their own rules, develop a personal avatar and keep a close eye on their progress, how well they are doing.
  • Finally, and as we have touched on, gamification boosts engagement because it makes learning fun!

So, what are our options for gamification for students beyond the classroom?

With an increase in the divorce rate, more families where both parents are forced to work and for longer hours means that for parents, less time can be spent with their children. Though originally dating back to the 1940s, the term ‘latchkey kids’ became commonplace in the 1970s and 1980s, and since then the family unit has changed little.

Could gamification become a third parent?

Without the constant guidance from parents, children have been forced to learn for themselves about many of life’s social issues or, to put it simply, to learn right from wrong. Invariably the learning curve comes from being admonished or criticised for doing something bad or socially unacceptable, yet the upsetting part for many children is that many of their mistakes are made through ignorance, not malice.

Gamification can introduce children to virtual worlds, virtual societies where they can participate as an actor and witness the outcomes of various actions, both good and bad. Oftentimes we only look at the immediate context when assessing the results of our actions, but gamification enables one to look at a far bigger picture. Because we don’t live in a perfect world, including negative outcomes as a consequence of actions is important to show that actions have consequences, often far beyond our control. However, with so much negativity in the world as it is, it is felt that overall, in the field of learning, the best results will be obtained from providing positive and rewarding outcomes to provided scenarios.

Examples of positive-outcome gamification

Financial success

Imagine the goal of the ‘game’ is to teach children the benefits of sound money management. As a stand-alone classroom topic this has the potential to bore children to sleep even before the lesson has begun. However, developing a game called ‘Being the Joneses’ could have tremendous educational potential. ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ is a popular expression that relates to doing as well in life as your wealthy neighbour. 

In this game you could be the Joneses and you could create your strategy to succeed in life, starting with your education, with options thereafter as to what route you go down to become a financially secure adult. As you do that, you can see what your neighbours are up to, how they are doing and what they are doing. This can extend right through to how they save their money, where they invest their money, etc. The goal of the game is to remain one step ahead of your neighbours from a financial standpoint; but learning about the benefits of astute finance as you go along.

Social success

Imagine a game where the goal is not just to make friends with people, but to keep them, and the longer you keep them the more points you score. You can get points for getting a new friend, but then you get a bonus score for each year they remain a friend. However, to keep them as friends, you have to interact with them – go to a football match together, help them if their car breaks down, help decorate their house. In other words, the more you do for other people, the better you will do in the game. This could run alongside a variety of other characters where you can watch how they interact with people, how they work hard to get friends, but do little to keep them.

Soon the player will learn that making wise choices where friends are concerned is vital as part of the interaction is to try and become friends with ‘good’ people, who will help you boost your scores, and avoid becoming friends with ‘bad people’ who could lead you down the wrong path and even involve you in breaking the law, thus losing you points.

Being a Good Samaritan

Not everybody follows a Christian faith, but the principal of such a game could cover all religions. Put simply, it could be a ‘walk through life’ where you are presented with opportunities to do good deeds that will apparently reward you with little (other than feeling righteous), such as finding a wallet stuffed with cash and handing it in with all the money to a police station rather than just taking the cash and tossing the wallet. You hear nothing but two years later you lose your job and face losing your home as a consequence. Then you hear of a job and get an interview, but you know that there are 20 other people after the job. During the interview you realise that the employer’s name is the same as the man whose wallet you found, and you ask him if he had lost his wallet a couple of years ago. To cut a long story short, he gives you the job on the spot when he realises who you are as he knew you would be a credit to his company, and he pays you more than you were getting in your last job too!

Gamification needs to provide some form of reward to be successful

Today too many games are structured around doing bad deeds and being rewarded for it. The reward is usually ‘winning’ which gives you a relatively short-lived feeling of having done well, having succeeded. The problem is, these games are too ‘fanciful’, they are fantasy-based as opposed to genuine real-life situations you may find yourself in.

The likes of God of War – Kratos, Dead by Daylight, Hitman – Agent 47, Grand Theft Auto 5, Mafia 2 and Spec Ops: The line – Martin Walker are hugely popular games all with one thing in common – you get to play the bad guy, the villain. But what do any of these games teach us about real life? Very little, other than if you do bad things, people will die; only in real life there isn’t a ‘play again button.

One curious game that broke the mould – Frisk – Undertale

To end on a high note, we love a game developed by Toby Fox and inspired by Earthbound. Undertale was a game changer and fits perfectly into the gamification genre and here’s why. The game, unusually, encourages players to re-evaluate their actions. On most players first introduction to the game, it seems obvious that the challenge is to kill all ‘enemies’. However, as you become more familiar with the game you soon realise that enemies don’t have to be killed and instead of playing in the Genocide or Neutral mode, you can play as a True Pacifist. Players then begin to get a better understanding of the cost and consequences of their actions.

To sum up

Many of us worry that our children spend too much time ‘on their phones’ or playing videogames in their bedroom. Perhaps the solution to the problem doesn’t lie so much in placing restrictions on the amount of screentime they are allowed, but the nature of the interaction – gamification has so many benefits it can add immensely to a child’s mental and social development.

Here at Cyclic Digital we are committed to education, but education delivered in an enjoyable and exciting way that makes learning fun, learning that is in lock-step with the demands of contemporary society.