What Is A Serious Game, Gamification

Designing Digitally


Just as family members share similar DNA, gamification and serious games share similar traits. Both are born of game thinking, mechanics, and design. Both are used to solve problems. And both engage users. But just like family members, gamificaton and serious games have their differences.

Let's take a closer look at each of these game-based techniques to see how they differ and how they can be used.

The Game Called Life

Gamification uses game thinking and mechanics in a non-game context to improve user engagement and solve problems. Probably the most common example of gamification is a frequent flyer or loyalty program. By offering rewards or incentives (a game element), these programs engage customers and influence their behavior to buy the company's product or service (a non-game context). While some frequent flyers may consider the accumulation of points to earn free flights a game, loyalty programs are not actually games.

Other forms of gamification tap into people's competitive natures and sense of play to lend a game-like feel to everyday tasks and experiences. For instance, an application like Nike+ helps motivate users to exercise more with rewards and achievements, goal tracking, and social competitiveness. Or a 3-D virtual campus tour becomes a dynamic online recruitment tool with avatars, mini-games, and opportunities to connect with other recruits. Below is a great example of the team at Designing Digitally, Inc. using gamification to make coming to work fun!

Why so serious?

Serious games, on the other hand, are games. But they are games designed for a purpose other than entertainment. Serious games use game environments and techniques to train or educate users or to promote a product or service in an engaging and entertaining way. The "serious" aspect comes from the fact that they are used by industries like defense, education, scientific exploration, health care, emergency management, city planning, engineering, religion, and politics.

Game-based learning is not a new concept. It dates back to at least the 1900s, and paper-based educational games were quite popular in the 1960s and 1970s. But advances in technology, motion tracking, 3-D gaming, and sophisticated graphic design have taken game-based learning to a new level. For example, a new airline employee can learn directional marshaling signals by playing a serious game that uses Microsoft Kinect. The trainee actually uses the signals to guide an airplane out of the hangar and down the runway, dodging obstacles and earning achievement points. In the simulated environment, the trainee has the opportunity to practice, fail, and improve while enjoying the experience, which leads to better retention of the concepts learned.

Clearly, gamification and serious games share similar traits and even goals. What sets them apart is the context in which game elements are applied. Gamification is more than a serious game as it expands game thinking and mechanics into non-game environments, such as the classroom or everyday life.

Serious games apply game thinking and mechanics to "serious" subjects. Ultimately, the more you make something compelling and fun with gaming elements, the better your chances are for getting the results you want.

For more information on Gamification vs. Game Based Learning you view the PowerPoint created by our President of Designing Digitally, Inc. (Andrew Hughes) for the Society of Applied Learning Technologies Conference that was held August 15th 2013 below: