Gamification: How Does It Work?



The gaming industry has been steadily growing for the last few decades. There are now more than 3 billion active gamers around the world. That is almost a billion more than 5 years ago (DFC Intelligence, 2020). A majority of them use mobile devices which are increasingly able to access sophisticated multiplayer games. Increasing easy access to technological devices has made it easier for young children to use video games as their primary method of entertainment. 

An estimated 91% of American children are playing video games. A quarter of teens (26%) believe they spend too much time playing video games, while a similar share (22%) feels they spend too little time doing so(Perrin, 2018). While the number may not be quite as high in Bangladesh, the difference can be attributed to lack of access to devices for young children. This rapid growth of gaming among teenagers has generated concern among parents, scholars, and politicians. This reflects another concern that such play will distract from important academic, social, and physical activities. So what if we can use the same gaming principles to teach teenagers science, math and history? 

Game psychology 

To understand why gaming can help in the classroom, it is important to understand why people play video (and board) games. People are quick to cite escapism as one of the key reasons they play games because it offers them the opportunity to get away from real-life problems. However, the research company immersive collected years of data that showed that the reasons behind gaming are much more complex. They concluded that gaming perfectly targets three psychological needs.

The first of these is competency. People want to be recognised for things they are good at. They enjoy the feeling of progression, the ability to accomplish goals and targets and being rewarded when they do so. This manifests in our real life as our desire to gain promotion or change jobs, or take up a new hobby or learn something new. 

Competency is a key part of gaming and is built into every step. They provide challenges with varying degrees of difficulty, with clear lines of progression. They also give us built-in reward systems. 

The second important psychological factor is the player’s autonomy or independence to make decisions. In real life, external factors have a huge impact on a person’s life but in free roam games players can make their way through the game. The good thing about this is when players fail they have the opportunity to try again. 

The last psychological need is the ability to relate to another person, or even a fictional character. 

The Gaming Mindset

Games encourage players to try again and again. If they fail, they can always restart, allowing them to have the opportunity to increase their skill level with each new opportunity. This is what we call the gaming mindset. They are rewarded for every achievement, no matter how minute and players have a clear path of progression that they get to follow at their own pace. 

The Traditional Classroom Mindset

The Traditional Classroom Mindset stands in stark opposition to the gaming mindset. Making mistakes are penalised and students are often discouraged from asking probing questions that are simply meant to feed their curiosity.

Perhaps the biggest way that the gaming mindset and the traditional classroom mindset differs is the pace they set of the participants, i.e. players and students. Players can dictate how they play, how much time they spend on a game per day and how they progress towards the game. However, in a traditional classroom, students have to follow the pace set by the teacher even if their way of learning is vastly different from their fellow peers. This is detrimental to their motivation to study, which is a key factor behind their academic performance (Aguiar-Castillo et al, 2020). Motivation in the classroom requires that learning make sense and be meaningful for the student. Hence, the educational activity must be “based on the principles of attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction to achieve this motivation” (Aguiar-Castillo et al, 2020).

The use of gaming tools in the classroom 

Students often have to study subjects they are not interested in but they are crucial for a well-rounded education. So how do we get them to actively participate and take charge of their learning? Through gamification. 

The gamification tools, although they are not games, are used to leverage human psychology the way games do. It makes gamification a more rewarding option, and therefore effective than conventional techniques of motivation and loyalty because, in the game, motivation is implicit (Werbach & Hunter, 2012). It makes learning more fun, interactive and much more effective in delivering skills and knowledge to students. Games make students more attentive in classes and less scared of making mistakes, thereby increasing their motivation to further participate in activities. 

Tools of gamification
  1. Storytelling/Analogy: Most games employ some type of story. Monopoly tells the story of becoming rich through property ownership at the risk of losing it all. Using stories in a classroom setting makes it more interesting for students to learn facts. 
  2. Challenges and Leaderboards: These are visible to all students and they are a way of obtaining recognition from their peers. Students can see where they stand and compare their results and achievements to their friends and colleagues. Leaderboards encourage competition between students and motivate them to be more active participants in the learning process.
  3. Rapid Feedback: This is a continuous process with students getting feedback every 5-10 minutes. This is also quite prevalent in game design. Players get many opportunities to practice the skills they have picked up, and feedback is either given instantaneously or at the end of every level. Doing so in the classroom will make students more motivated, engaged and encourage them to participate more. 
  4. Freedom to fail: Games often encourage players to experiment without fear of causing irreversible damage by giving them multiple lives, or allowing them to start again at the most recent ‘checkpoint’. Incorporating this ‘freedom to fail’ into classroom design is noted to be an effective dynamic in increasing student engagement. By taking away the fear of failure, students concentrate on the learning process and are more likely to take risks and experiment. 
  5. Badges: These can be given to students upon completing a set of activities or for achieving a certain level of knowledge and competence. They can be used to display students’ achievements and rewards. 
  6. Non-linear progression: Missions in games can be done separately and players can choose which missions they want to do. There are tutorials to help them along the way if they fall behind. Similarly, every student learns at a different pace and some may need extra help to reach the same milestones as their peers. 

Psychology changes due to gamification

As mentioned earlier, motivation is a key element of gamification in the classroom. There are generally two types of motivation observed in students, intrinsic and extrinsic. The former comes from within and motivates the student to pursue a subject because they enjoy it and are interested in it. Whereas, extrinsic motivation comes from outside and leads students to an action that will reward them or allow them to reach other goals, i.e. good results in the classroom (Eccles and Wigfield, 2002). 

Intrinsic motivation increases the personal feeling of competency and self-determination. So students are more likely to put in the effort to realise their learning abilities, are more likely to be involved in processing more complex and enriching materials and find more effective learning strategies (Lepper, 1988). Intrinsically motivated students are more likely to have academic success than extrinsically motivated ones (Reeve, 2002). 

There seems to be a consensus that intrinsic motivation generates more significant benefits than the extrinsic one in the academic sphere since it generates more significant effort and commitment of the student concerning their learning. 


Utilising the tools of gamification in a classroom setting can yield significant benefits for students, chiefly by providing students with the motivation to take charge of their own learning. The current classroom mindset does not take into consideration the learning needs of many students, but by adopting a gamified approach schools can make sure that no child is left behind in the learning process. 



  • DFC Intelligence (2020). Global Video Game consumer Segmentation. Available at: [Accessed 25 Oct 2020]. 
  • Perrin, A. (2018). 5 facts about Americans and video games. Pew Research Centre. Available at: [Accessed 25 Oct 2020]. 
  • Aguiar-Castillo, L., Clavijo-Rodriguez, A., Hernández-López, L., De Saa-Pérez, P. and Pérez-Jiménez, R. (2020). Gamification and deep learning approaches in higher education. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism Education.
  • Lepper, M.R. (1988). Motivational considerations in the study of instruction. Cognition and Instruction, 5 (4) (1988), pp. 289-309.
  • Eccles, J.S. and Wigfield, A. (2002). Motivational beliefs, values, and goals. Annual Review of Psychology, 53 (1) (2002), pp. 109-132.
  • Reeve, J. (2002). Self-determination theory applied to educational settings In E.L. Deci & R.M. Ryan’s (eds) Handbook of self-determination research (pp 183-202). Rochester: Rochester University Press. 
  • Werbach, K. and Hunter, D. (2012). For the win: How game thinking can revolutionize your business. Wharton Digital Press. 

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