Gamification: the Mechanics or the Experience?

I was reading article yesterday where the author states, “gamification uses game mechanics in non-game environments.”

Hmm…. well, yes… but is that why gamification work?

What makes gamification work – the mechanics of game playing or the visceral experience it creates?

I’ve played enough bad video games where the mechanics may define it as a game, but it doesn’t mean the game was engaging, or even playable. When we strongly link gamification to engaging, we run the risk of missing the mark. Just adding game mechanics to learning to make it “gamified” doesn’t mean you are creating an engaging or effective learning experience.

Creating a first-person shooter game doesn’t guarantee you’ve created the next Call of Duty franchise. There are plenty of bad first-person shooter games. Beyond the game’s mechanics is the gaming experience. It’s what engages players and elevates a game above its peers.

It’s the same with eLearning. Simply adding game mechanics to “gamify” your learning doesn’t mean you’ve created an engaging, elevated eLearning experience.

What makes a game experience exciting? If you ask gamers, it is often the visceral experience, not the actual functionality of the game.

Here are some examples. Instead of finding a game for the learner to play, you may accomplish the same level of engagement by simply adding a countdown timer and an audio cue that indicates time is running out. For an active shooter compliance course, we created an introduction that set up a scenario using visuals and sound effects that rival a video game. We used graphical themes from the opening scene throughout the course without using gamified functionality. Even so, learners reported having high-levels of engagement and a gamified experience. Studies show leaderboards to be affective whether built into a lesson or the LMS.

It’s not just about playing games.

Which brings me to the question – what makes gamification work? Is it the actual mechanisms that make eLearning game-line, or is it our ability to manipulate of the learner’s visceral responses and competitive nature?

This is particularly relevant when developing courses on small budgets, or with a team having limited development experience. Can you create the gamified experience through the narration, visual presentation or audio?

Don’t jump into gamification without identifying your intended user experience and what you need to accomplish to create that experience.


1Mitu, Roxana. Gamification – a cross-generational affair. Matrix Blog. March 14, 2017.


Strategist, author, and Senior Instructional Designer, Michael is passionate about organizational transformation and the Associate Experience.

Dancor Solutions is a communication strategy company that specializes in elevating the Associate Experience through strategic and compelling communication. Follow @DancorSolutions or

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