Motivating through gamification

In the research literature, gamification is seen as the application of game design elements in non-game contexts, where the elements do not constitute a fully-fledged game (Deterding et al., 2011).

Although the term has come into general use only quite recently, basics elements of gamification like accumulating points and earning badges have been employed for years in different contexts, such as commercial loyalty programs.

Undoubtedly, the key aspect driving researchers to analyse gamification in education is its potential for boosting motivation and engagement.


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Games at home: inclusion & special needs

Considering the immensity and cultural relevance of videogames, the area of inclusion drew relatively little attention from the stakeholders Gaming Horizons engaged.

The exception is in education, an area in which inclusion is quite keenly felt.

A number of teachers see digital gaming as a chance to reach and engage learners with Special Education Needs (SEN).

They also consider it a way towards integrating those students better, and thus make classes more inclusive, especially where there are marked differences in students’ cognitive skills. At the same time, interviewees cautioned that care is required to harness gaming successfully for inclusive purposes.  

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Games at home: guiding children in the world of games

The influence games can have on children is a sensitive issue, and there is continued and serious concern about games’ potential for encouraging antisocial behaviour. Regulations are in place for labelling violent, explicit, or sexual content (e.g. PEGI in the EU or the ESRB rating in the USA). The main addressees of these labeling systems are parents, who should be informed about the content of the games their children play. Those same parents have the power to disregard the label altogether, either as a reasoned decision or because they lack the context to understand the meaning of the labels.

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Games and formal education: one size doesn’t fit all

Drawing from the experiences of the educators and players we interviewed, we envisage a very creative and informed use of games for learning at school, with a wide range of games used by educators and a similarly wide range of uses. Game choice – as with all choices in the learning design process – should be driven by learning objectives, contextual constraints, and educator experience, and ought to take student preference into consideration.

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Games and formal education: a difficult marriage

Integrating games in formal education is not easy. Firstly, not all teachers are familiar with games or game-based learning and not all students see this ‘marriage’ favourably, especially when asked to play serious games, which often do not have the engaging power of entertainment games.

Secondly, gaming is by definition a free exploratory activity, while formal education has its rules, its constraints, and sometimes the use of games isn’t compatible with these restrictions.

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Arts and entertainment games research

During the Gaming Horizons research, a clear boundary was drawn between the applied and fundamental research possibilities for serious/applied games when compared to arts/entertainment games.

Games research was most commonly situated in instrumentalist contexts, such as their direct and measurable impact on learning or antisocial behaviour, and rarely in the context of their creative, expressive, or artistic possibilities.

From an industrial perspective, there was no sense of established collaboration with researchers, nor any sense that a change was impending in this relationship. The work of academic researchers appears to be entirely out of touch with the arts and entertainment games sector.

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Gambling and dark design

Although academic research demonstrated a bias towards studies of violence, developer and player stakeholders in particular were more concerned about the manipulative application of psychological principles linked to dopamine triggers in the brain. These were referred to broadly as ‘dark design patterns’ and commonly tied to paid activities, such as compulsive buying of in-game goods or creating gambling-related reward systems.

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Representations of race, and ethnicity: supporting inclusion in the social landscape

With video games becoming increasingly an everyday presence in the lives of all ages of Europeans, and especially people below the age of 30, they can play an important role in signifying a group’s inclusion and integration within society. The few studies of race and ethnicity in games have shown an unrepresentative dominance of white people as lead characters, with other ethnicities (if present) typically included as minor enemy characters.

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Games and inclusion: gender, minorities, and society

For all ages, video games are an expressive medium that are increasingly diversifying both the identities of the protagonists and the events and interactions presented in them.

Issues addressed by video games include gender identity, treatment of cultural and ethnic minorities, refugees and war survivors, grief, love, sexual health, domestic violence, religion and faith, socialism, capitalism and neoliberalism, and, in a notable example from 2017, a playable interpretation of the work of the philosopher of Alan Watts (Everything).

Such games can be used in a classroom context, but they are also commercial and non-commercial entertainment products that are already being played by millions of Europeans

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Games conferences and new media as academic publishing

Instead of using traditional academic resources, games industry conferences were framed as ‘nexus points’ of knowledge sharing within the game development community. However, industry conferences are not always amenable to academic contributions because of perceived/actual problems of accessibility of academic language, data presentation, timeliness, or the lack of immediate practical implications from the research.

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