Motivating game elements

Michael Sailer, Jan Hense, Heinz Mandl and Markus Klevers

Psychological Perspectives on Motivation Through Interaction Design and Architecture(s) Journal – IxD&A, N.19, 2013, pp. 28-37

The article I chose this week continues my exploration of motivation, this time seen in the context of gamification.   I have been hearing a lot about gamification for the last several years and bump into elements being incorporated into my own world often enough.   Badges are popping up at professional conferences, a progress bar has been included in the university’s degree audit tool, avatars and public user profiles on linked-in, etc. I was expecting to need to wade through gobs of research when I entered my search terms ‘motivation’ and ‘gamification’ into the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library Database.   I was surprised when my search ended with little or no useful results, requiring me to expand the search to the world wide web. Plenty of results were available for one or the other term, just not for the two combined.
The article I ended up with, however, was exactly what I was looking for.   The authors take 2 very broad and potentially unwieldy topics, distill them down to a relevant essence and then very cleverly tie the two together to a clearly organized and usable framework with which to separate each element and the mechanisms of motivation it could trigger.
The writing is clear and concise and presented in a logical order. The authors begin by  defining  gamification and  differentiating it from the related term ‘serious games’.  Gamification is defined as the use of one or more of the  ‘elements’ found  within a game used in a  “non-game setting’ while ‘serious games’  are defined as an actual game designed, not for play alone, but for a learning purpose.  The authors then continue on to provide a list of game elements and a quick definition for each.
Next, we look at different mechanisms of motivation  which are described from 6 different motivation theory perspectives.  Examples of each  perspective are then provided through a game context lens.  Now we have a  definition of game elements and ideas on  individual motivational mechanisms likely at work.  The authors next tie it  together for us by  theorizing which elements  would  stimulate which motivations  in a section they title  “Matching Motivational Mechanisms and Game Elements’.  For example,   one  motivating mechanism that could be triggered by the use of the game element of badges is that  “players with a strong power motive are likely to be motivated if  ramifications emphasizes status, control and competition’.

The authors do not recommend one element or motivational theory over another, but show how many elements could be at play in a variety of contexts.  It was an interesting approach to making sense of two complex topics and bringing them together.   I especially   appreciated  the concrete examples of both game elements and how each might work to motivate a player.

I would be seriously interested in using the framework created by the authors to study the success of fantasy football player motivation based on this article’s list of game elements and the mechanisms triggered.   Though football itself is a game, the watching of football (taking gambling of the table) is generally not.   Fantasy football has, in an extremely successful way, to the point of being genius really, gamified the watching of other people playing a game in a new and healthy way.   There are serious motivational factors at play here clearly triggered by game elements (points, avatars, rules, leaderboards, performance graphs, quests, meaningful stories)   in an otherwise non game setting.   Hmmmm.

2 thoughts on “Motivating game elements

  1. Nice review and nice observation on the success of fantasy football. Do you think it might be possible to take advantage of those gaming elements in an even more explicitly educational context? (I don’t doubt that people who are effective at fantasy football learn more about the game than your average viewer – the activity is engaging as well as educative). What other human activities might we invent “fantasy leagues” around?

    I enjoy hearing about the distinctions of categories of games, and there is value in the exercise of figuring out what we mean by the various terms, but at the same time I think gamification of educational experiences is often best expressed as some sort of multi-dimensional continuum. Different types of educational experiences can use various components of game-like aspects in myriad combinations. Also, education has long been gamified. We use scores for exams, post them on the chalkboard or outside class, we assign grades, students optimize their effort according to points earned on particular assignments. I’ve heard it said before to faculty, “if you’re not playing your students, your students are playing you.”

    I like that you picked up on this topic along with Nicholas this week. Good stuff.


  2. “I was surprised when my search ended with little or no useful results, requiring me to expand the search to the world wide web.”

    Have you tried looking at less-than-academic sources? I could email something if you’d like. I know it sounds sketchy but the video game community (players, creators, and analysts) have spent years talking about exactly how games motivate people. Motivation to finish is the games’s core concept. A lot of this can be applied to education, too. Educators seem to be a little slower to look at the game community than the game community has been to look at education.

    On the topic of fantasy football, the educational applications of that are interesting. Fantasy football is basically Pokemon or Dungeons and Dragons for sports fans. I’ve played both before and they’re incredibly similar and I’ve no idea what motivates people to engage in either one. There’s a teacher in Fairbanks right now who’s using fantasy football in their class to motivate students to do write ups and statistics. Very fascinating. I would be interested in seeing if you continue that thread next week, because I’ve often thought that there are some really strange and unique concepts there that could, for example, be used in a history class. How cool would that be?

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