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Gamification: Framing The Discussion
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Gamification: Framing The Discussion

November 2, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Next, I'd like to introduce an academic named Nicole Lazzaro. Nicole's study covers the basics of choice and challenge that we've already talked about, but what she does differently is focus her studies around the emotional state of gamers.

In her own words:

Our results revealed that people play games not so much for the game itself as for the experience the game creates: an adrenaline rush, a vicarious adventure, a mental challenge; or the structure games provide, such as a moment of solitude or the company of friends.

While she seems to view every aspect of a game from the perspective of emotion (and the utility of this perspective may be questionable) she does raise a worthy point: pure emotions most likely have a role in the concept of "fun".

After all, why do people watch scary movies, flirt with their own spouses, play practical jokes on each other, or play Crocodile Dentist? They find surges of emotion like fear, arousal, humor, suspense and surprise to be fun.

I have one more academic who never seems to get integrated properly into these discussions, and his name is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi is the foremost expert in what we know as flow. In his own words, flow is:

Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz.

Flow is often used to mean "balanced difficulty", or is just as often dismissed as simply another emotional state. I believe the topic is actually much more interesting than either of these interpretations, and warrants its own entry in our list. For examples of flow that might be called "games", I might cite bouncing a ball repeated off a wall or flinging cards at a hat. While these activities do involve learning a skill, I think the fact that it is a worthless skill might be indicative of something else going on.

What Makes a Game Fun? A Summary

We've heard from some of the most recognized experts on the subject (hopefully I haven't abbreviated their voices unfairly), done some paring for utility, and here's our working list of features that make games fun:

  1. Learning / Challenge / Discovery
  2. Role Playing / Expression
  3. Competition
  4. Fellowship
  5. Fantasy / Narrative
  6. Emotion
  7. Flow

Before moving on, I'd like to do a little editing -- nothing serious, just some renaming and a little shifting of shared similarities. I'll include my reasons below for anyone who cares to argue.

Final List:

  1. Growth
  2. Choice
  3. Competition
  4. Identity
  5. Story
  6. Emotion
  7. Flow

We now have a list of aspects that make games fun. I believe any proposed addition can be categorized under one or more of these seven. If it can't, I'm more than willing to add another entry (or acknowledge and dismiss it, like sensation).

If we take the word "game" to be defined as: an activity engaged in for the pursuit of fun (and this is basically how the dictionary defines it), I think we're ready to move on with our analysis of gamification.

In further articles, I will address each of the aspects on our list, what they might look like independent from the rest and how they might be used in a context outside of traditional gaming. Given the breadth of the content, I won't be able to go into exacting detail, but I hope to cover each enough to set a trajectory towards further constructive thought.

How I Arrived At the List

For our first entry, we already have three proposed names: learning, challenge, and discovery. I would like to propose a fourth to represent them all: growth. Growth conveys an unequivocal sense of going somewhere, improving on a previous state.

What I prefer about "growth" is that it cuts more directly to the center of the desired experience than the others; I might be learning something, but not feeling as if it's progressing towards any useful end. I might be challenged, but resent it as an unnecessary or pointless obstacle. I might discover something, but feel it to be irrelevant. Only growth clearly conveys both personal development and a positive experience.

Once you filter out the concept of story (covered under fantasy and narrative), role playing and expression are actually very similar. They describe an opportunity to assert the values that make you who you are and the freedom to try out new values without judgment. This seems to convey two things: identity and choice. Identity is important, but it's already been covered elsewhere on the list (see below). That leaves us with choice, or autonomy, which is important enough to warrant an entry of its own.

Fellowship is a funny word that can't help but conjure up images of Hobbits. What we're really talking about here is a sense of belonging -- a role, or place, in a social context. Nothing seems to describe it better than identity. I know who I am, and so does everyone else. While fellowship implies a purely friendly social relationship, friendship may be too specific -- it's probably safe to say almost everyone desires a sense of identity, but not everyone craves harmony and alliance.

For fantasy / narrative, as I mentioned earlier, these two respectively describe the premise and events of a Story. "Narrative" is a probably the more inclusive of the two, but yet seems too cold to properly convey the fun feeling of getting wrapped up in an engaging story. The users call it "story", and I feel it makes the most sense to do the same.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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