A Guide to Gamification: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

 In Classroom Practice

Gaming Can Change the World

You may be hearing a new word in education and technology a lot these days: Gamification. Gamification applies elements associated with video games (game mechanics and game dynamics) in non-game activities. In a nutshell, gamification is a means of increasing student engagement and promoting good classroom behavior. In 2011, Deterding defined gamification as the use of game design elements, characteristic for games, in non-game contexts. Think of the key elements of a game: Achievement, goals, rewards, quests, and the ability to level up your character; generally, each of these drive promotion or leveling up of a player within a game. Gamification takes that reward and leveling structure and applies it to participants, that is, your students.

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As a classroom management tool and motivator, gamification has great potential in pushing student achievement and making school more attractive (Lee & Hammer, 2011). The idea here is that using a gamified tool has the advantage of introducing what really matters from the world of video games – increasing the level of engagement of students – without using any specific game. The leveling and reward system borrows from what makes good games enjoyable and fun to play. Learning can be fun if students learn as if they were playing a game.

The Good:

The gamification framework will help and guide the teacher to:

  • Create challenges tailored to the student’s level of knowledge, and increase the difficulty of these challenges as the student acquires new skills.
  • Set up multiple ways to successfully achieve an objective, allowing students to overcome roadblocks in learning.
  • Consider the failure as part of the learning process: a learning objective can be met successfully after several failed attempts without penalizing the student.
  • Enable students to assume different identities and different roles, allowing them to explore the interaction with other parts of who they are.
  • Enable recognition of the student’s progress by their classmates and parents.
  • Help maintain a standard of behavior and expectation in the classroom, while rewarding students who meet challenges set before them.

Here are some examples of systems that show gamification at its best, and which examine the research of Gamification:

The Education Arcade

The Education Arcade is an initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has material for educators to produce more effective teaching methods. The site also has news and commentary on contemporary education developments. Content on the site is designed for teachers of grade 5-12.


Gamifeye posts useful information and commentary on a number of issues in gamification and the various contexts it can prove useful namely education. For teachers, this site is very useful because it’s loaded with advice for incorporating gamification into the classroom. They’re on Twitter!: @gamifeye


GameSalad is a game design education program that is simple enough to master quickly, but complex enough to still create highly customizable material and games. Once teachers have used this, it’s easy to teach children to create their own games. They’re on Twitter!: @gamesalad

Games and Learning Alliance

GALA, or the Games and Learning Alliance, blogs on serious developments in gamification and the intersection of games and education. They invite many people to submit papers commenting on gamification’s impact on behaviors. They’re on Twitter!: @gameandlearning There are several games and tools teachers can turn to when looking to implement gamification in their classrooms. Three of the most effective curriculum and classroom management tools we recommend are:

ClassDojo: Turns Class into a Game of Rewards and Instant Check out this blog post on using ClassDojo to manage and create and engaging classroom.

PlayBrighter: Where Missions Replace Assignments

GoalBook: Brings student teams together around their individual Learning Plans

The Bad

As is the case with most trends, there are teachers and administrators who want to use gamification just for the sake of using it. The name is catchy, it sounds fun and many educators and researchers in technology have praised its results in other fields. But maybe gamification just isn’t right for your classroom, certain students, or your demographic of learners. Before implementing a gamified system, think about why gamification can work for your classroom. Think of the end pedagogical goals of teaching using gamification:

1) how will you teach using it?

2) what parts of your classroom will be gamified?

3) what could go wrong?

If it’s difficult to come up with solid answers to why you would use it in the classroom, it may be best to go in a different direction.

The Ugly

Knowing what can go wrong in your classroom with gamification is important. As with any changes to your pedagogy, you need to consider how students could be negatively affected. For example:


Offering too many quests or goals in a small timeframe could overwhelm students. They might log in, see 25 quests, and not know where to begin. Limit the expectations in your use of quests or assignments.


Instead of motivating students, reaching the top of an “academic” leaderboard might be considered “uncool.” Worse, this might alienate students who are already struggling. Consider making this optional for students, or highlight winners of various tasks and quests beyond just the academic.

Neglecting Player Types

Gamers play games for many reasons. Some play to win, others play for the fun of it, and many of your students play to make friends or engage with their friends outside of school. This makes for many types of players/learners. Most gamified systems cater heavily to the competitive type. If your game/quests/goals ignore the cooperative or explorative types of players, your students could disengage. Diversify your quests to consider all types of learners or players.

Not Celebrating Failure

Games celebrate success, but they also celebrate failure. Navigating a game always involves a number of ‘redos’ and failures as you progress. If you are not celebrating failure in your gamification model in the classroom, you are not celebrating learning. By only celebrating success, you put a value on winning and success, rather than growth and persistence. Do you have badges for “Sticking With It,” “Big Improvement,” or “Asking for Help”? You should!

Gamification can be a helpful process for engaging and motivating your students. However, doing it right requires thoughtfulness and an awareness of how your students learn best.

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