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5 Myths Surrounding Gamification

Earlier this year I wrote a blog post in which I tried to define Gamification by comparing two renowned authors: Karl Kapp & Yu Kai Chou. Even though there were differences the bottom line of Gamification is clear:

motivating and engaging people by applying game mechanics or concepts into a non-game context.

In a following blog post I would like to discuss the pros and cons of Gamification with regard to ensuring a learning transfer as well as in terms of viability from an organisational point of view. Before I do so, I think it would help you understand Gamification by debunking some widespread myths that I’ve encountered during my research.

Myth 1: Gamification are video games

Gamification applications can indeed look like video games but they do not necessarily have to. On the contrary, Gamification is characterized by using game mechanics in a non-gaming context such as the workplace. With Gamification we are not learning through games (game-based learning), we are being motivated by game mechanics to learn.

Myth 2: Gamification is new and will estrange ‘older’ learners

Though the word Gamification was not coined until 2002 by Nick Pelling, it has been around as a concept forever. Games, whether offline or online, is an activity for amusement enjoyed by all ages and genders. Besides, Gamification mostly applies those game elements that are ancient such as storytelling and badges.



Since the beginning of the 20th century, Merit Badges are awarded to boy scouts  who completed a list of requirements in an area of study. They engage scouts to examine all kinds of subjects which they might like to further pursue as a career or hobby.





The object of the game The Mansion of Happiness (1843) was very simple: be the first to reach the Mansion of Happiness at the centre of the board. The narrative however was based upon Christian Morality: the Mansion in the centre as a metaphor for heaven. The path to heaven is populated with virtuous deed tiles (e.g.: ‘Piety’, ‘Gratitude’,…) which moved players forwards to eternal happiness. Vices such as ‘Immodesty’ or ‘Ingratitude’ moved players backwards.



Myth 3: Gamification is only possible by the application of technology

Technology is certainly not the keystone of Gamification, the use of game mechanics and how these relate to each other in your design and towards your learning goal is. One can easily gamify a business process without the use of technology; a customer relation roleplay is a simple example of this.

Notwithstanding, technology can offer you a lot of possibilities to enforce your gamified learning material whether it is from an aesthetical or instructional point of view.

For me one of the strongest statements towards this myth and the misapprehension of Gamification altogether is this quote from Karl Kapp: “Gamification is not a matter of technology but of design.

Myth 4: Gamification has no scientific background

There are different learning theories that support the use of game mechanics for learning in all kinds of contexts. For example, the Behaviouristic learning theory of Operant Conditioning can be applied on Gamification Design. Providing appropriate rewards or points after the correct behaviour will maintain a learner’s interest to repeat that behaviour.

For me Gamification relates the most to The Self Determination Theory (SDT) in which a learner is provided the opportunities for a feeling of competence and autonomy.  

Myth 5: Gamification is all about adding scoreboards, points and badges

In most cases merely adding these game mechanics to your learning material will lead to failure. What’s more is that these game mechanics are the least important mechanics in terms of ensuring a better learning transfer. The impact of game mechanics such as risk taking, individual feedback loops, storytelling,… is far bigger.  

Now that these myths are out of the way, I truly hope that you have a more open approach towards Gamification and that you are keen to learn more. Maybe you are thinking:

  • If employees are obliged by the management to undertake training, why should I need to motivate them?
  • Why do some game mechanics have a bigger impact on the learning transfer than others?
  • How are game mechanics related to The Self Determination Theory (SDT)?
  • What is the SDT about?
  • Should my organisation adapt Gamification by any means?
  • Is gamification better than more traditional learning methods?

All of these questions will be answered in my next blogpost: ‘Why Gamification?’. In the meanwhile, feel free to share this blog or drop a comment below!