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When not to use Gamification?

by Victor Manrique on 05/17/13 11:31:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Why use Gamification

In our latest post we established that Gamification is a very powerful tool that allows us to generate/build happiness while increasing people´s motivation to achieve a goal. 
This is due to two main conclusions:
- There is a strong connection between game mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics (MDA) that gamification is based on, with the well-being PERMA factors of Dr. Martin Seligman
- A link between the happiness (well-being) PERMA elements and the main factors of motivation can be identified, according to the extended Self-determination theory of Deci and Ryan
When "joining dots", we realise that the formula of Gamification is: 
Gamification = Goal = Happiness (PERMA) + Motivation (extended SDT)

If you feel like knowing more about it check my post "Why use Gamification" here: 
Many other resources can be found in that post, as well as the official links for some more expert insights!

The NOT to use factors 

Up until now, we have established that gamification is used to increase people's happiness while boosting their motivation towards a goal. In consequence, we have discovered which are the most important factors that drive it so, if we know why we use it, can we identify the situations when not to apply it?  
And the answer is: YES!!!!
Going through the reasons why it is used again, we can see that happiness, motivation and goals are the main keys points
So, if we are thinking about applying gamification and:
-  A start-end task or activity cannot be clearly identified or there's no motivation for it
- The motivation for the target task or activity is more than enough to accomplish it
- Or we are clearly not creating or increasing the happiness of the people involved
We should not use gamification!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No goal: start-end activities

One of the main factors to apply gamification is the existance of a certain purpose, an activity that is started because of a reason and its finish line is a clear goal. This means that if no clear goal to accomplish this task is involved, there is not that much gamification can do.
This is the case when we are doing things just for the sake of it, without a meaningful reason. Playing football for fun with some friends, having a picnic on a sunny day or checking out stuff on the internet to get some information are good examples for it. As we can imagine, it is not that recommendable to gamify this activities since no long term goal is involved and they dont start because of a stated reason. We do them just because we want.
On the other hand, it has to be said that this kind of tasks are not the common thing, and a start-end pattern can be identified in the majority of activities that we do day by day. In some cases it's clearer that in others, but if we think about it, almost all of them are started by a reason and done in order to accomplish a meaningful goal. (Think about "Chore Wars" and how "chores" also have a reason to start and of course a purpose can be identified in time)
When applying gamification, there must be a start-end pattern underlying or it will not be as effective or powerful as usual, especially in the long term.  

Enough motivation: Time/Speed/Seriousness

Another one of the reasons not to apply gamification is the "enough motivation" factor. By this, I am thinking about those kind of activities that we don't need a motivational boost in order to perform them in an optimus way.
This is the case when extreme time or speed constrains appear and the activity is a matter of "life or death". In addition, there are some cases when the seriousness of the task itself is more than enough to do it.
In example, taking a relative to the hospital, doing an exam or explaining the business current situation to our stakeholders are things that need to be done, and due to their seriousness they need to be quick and effective without any delaying steps in the middle.
When applying gamification, we have to be aware of the time, speed and seriousness constrains involved.Sometimes gamifying is not advisable.

Unethical or Amoral behaviours

Our last factor is a very clear one. Gamification must always be a tool to promote ethical behaviours and it musn't be used in any other way.
When gamification is causing great harm, as some recent studies have shown with "gamblification", or it is not promoting happiness or motivation in a good way, it should not be used.
For more information about this topic i suggest you to read Andrzej's (@daverage) Code of Ethics (

Victor Manrique

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