Definition and differentiation

The term gamification refers to the use of game elements, i.e. design elements and mechanics from games, to create playful experiences in fields of application outside of board games or computer games [1]. These gameful experiences strengthen motivation, fun and learning processes and can thus influence human behaviour [2]-[4]. Typical game elements and mechanics [5]that are used are approaches for

  • Performance and progress (e.g. points, levels, badges, challenges, skill trees)
  • Cooperation and social interaction (e.g. teams, guilds, team challenges, profiles, shared goals and dependencies)
  • Competition (e.g. leaderboards, competitions, time limits, betting)
  • Immersion (e.g. storytelling, virtual characters, unlockable content, virtual worlds, role-playing games).

Gamification can also be understood as a generic term that includes related concepts such as serious games or game-based learning, which are characterised by the fact that they describe independent learning games or the specific use of gamification in a learning context [2]. Developments in the field of games for increasing physical activity and supporting preventative healthcare, therapy and rehabilitation, known as exergames [6]are often regarded as a special form of gamification. The situation is comparable with concepts such as games-with-a-purpose, human-based computation games or productivity games [7][8]. As an approach to specifically influence human behaviour, gamification is also referred to as a form of nudging and persuasive technology [9] are discussed. In addition, gamification is also seen as an approach to designing motivational information systems that not only help users to pursue utilitarian purposes (e.g. to fulfil a task or solve a problem), but also offer hedonic benefits (e.g. enjoyment, fun, relaxation) at the same time [5].


The idea of using game design and game elements to improve digital learning programmes, for example, was already described in the 1980s [10][11]. However, gamification gained widespread attention from 2010 onwards, when visionary marketing and game design experts gave the phenomenon its current name [12]. Since then, scientific and practical interest in gamification has grown steadily, with initial studies in 2010 and 2011 and increased interest since 2012 [5].

While the understanding of gamification at the beginning of the research field focussed primarily on the use of progress-based elements such as points, badges and levels – also known as PBL – the perspective on gamification has broadened noticeably in recent years [13]. A wide range of developed design methods and frameworks [4][14]models, design principles [9] and evaluated game elements [5] today allows scientists, designers and practitioners to select the most suitable approaches for their own use case from a colourful bouquet.

In addition to the intentional application of gamification in various areas, the rather uncontrolled, emergent penetration of our culture and society with aspects of gaming, e.g. eSports, has also recently been labelled as gamification [8].

Application and examples

Gamification is traditionally used primarily in the field of education, which also explains the emergence of the term game-based learning for its specific use in the learning context. However, because gamification can make not only learning processes but also a wide range of activities more motivating, game-based elements and mechanics are now ubiquitous – whether in marketing and customer loyalty (e.g. loyalty programmes), innovation processes (e.g. ideas competitions), health and sport (e.g. in apps for training and fitness) or employee training (e.g. leadership simulations). Due to the broad applicability of gamification, there are hardly any areas in which gamification has not yet been used (see [5] for an overview).

In the context of global sustainability efforts, there is also growing interest in the use of gamification to promote sustainable development at an individual and organisational level. For example, current research is focussing on the potential of gamification for greater cooperation and collaboration [15]environmentally friendly behaviour [16][17] or social commitment [18].

From a technological perspective, gamification is also increasingly converging with the design of digital worlds, e.g. in the context of augmented reality and virtual reality applications, and is gaining new potential in the dynamic and personalised generation of playful experiences through the capabilities of artificial intelligence [19]. In addition, current developments in connection with the metaverse phenomenon are opening up new fields of application for gamification, be it the influencing of human behaviour in virtual worlds or the reinforcement of virtual experiences.

Criticism and problems

The potential of gamification to specifically increase motivation in various use cases, especially in the work context, is also the starting point for concerns regarding manipulation and lack of consent [20]. The large-scale but non-transparent collection and evaluation of behavioural data in gamified systems, which poses a risk to users’ privacy, is increasingly being criticised, particularly from a data protection perspective [21][22].

In addition, in some applications – whether intentionally or unintentionally – mechanics from games of chance, such as wheels of fortune, lottery tickets or loot boxes, are also used to persuade people to disclose data or even make monetary investments. These elements, also known as gamification [23], harbour potential for addiction and dependency similar to games of chance [22]which is why their use is heavily criticised, especially in systems that are also used by vulnerable groups (e.g. children).

Furthermore, the gamification of existing IT systems often creates additional complexity for users, which can reduce the accessibility of such systems [24]. Finally, research suggests that the psychological impact and perception of gamification differs between individuals [25][26] and should therefore be extensively tested and continuously monitored to prevent potentially harmful effects.


The research field of gamification has been gaining in importance internationally since 2011 [5]. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the topic, publications can be found in many specialist journals and conferences. In the last ten years, however, a number of conferences have focussed on a specific gamification topic. These include the Academic MindTrekConference and the Annual International GamiFin Conference in Finland, the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS) in the USA, the Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play (CHI PLAY) at various locations and the StartPlay Conference and the Mensch-und-Computer-Konferenzin Germany.

Thematically, gamification research can be organised along

  • the diverse application domains of gamification (e.g. education, work, sport, health, marketing, sales, mobility)
  • the psychological and behavioural effects of different design elements and mechanics
  • the use of special technologies (e.g. AR, VR, wearables, AI, IoT) and media
  • the theories, concepts and methods considered and used, and
  • the design aspects and elements used.


[1] K. Seaborn and D. I. Fels, “Gamification in theory and action: A survey,” International Journal of Human Computer Studies, vol. 74, pp. 14–31, 2015, doi: 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2014.09.006.

[2] J. Krath, L. Schürmann, and H. F. O. von Korflesch, “Revealing the theoretical basis of gamification: A systematic review and analysis of theory in research on gamification, serious games and game-based learning,” Comput Human Behav, vol. 125, p. 106963, Aug. 2021, doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2021.106963.

[3] K. Huotari and J. Hamari, “Defining Gamification – A Service Marketing Perspective,” in Proceeding of the 16th International Academic MindTrek Conference, Tampere, Finland, 2012, pp. 17–22. doi: 10.1145/2393132.2393137.

[4] B. Morschheuser, L. Hassan, K. Werder, and J. Hamari, “How to design gamification? A method for engineering gamified software,” Inf Softw Technol, vol. 95, pp. 219–237, Mar. 2018, doi: 10.1016/J.INFSOF.2017.10.015.

[5] J. Koivisto and J. Hamari, “The rise of motivational information systems: A review of gamification research,” Int J Inf Manage, vol. 45, pp. 191–210, Apr. 2019, doi: 10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2018.10.013.

[6]  W. Peng, J.-H. Lin, and J. Crouse, “Is Playing Exergames Really Exercising? A Meta-Analysis of Energy Expenditure in Active Video Games,” Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw, vol. 14, no. 11, pp. 681–688, Nov. 2011, doi: 10.1089/cyber.2010.0578.

[7] B. Morschheuser, J. Hamari, J. Koivisto, and A. Maedche, “Gamified crowdsourcing: Conceptualization, literature review, and future agenda,” Int J Hum Comput Stud, vol. 106, pp. 26–43, Oct. 2017, doi: 10.1016/J.IJHCS.2017.04.005.

[8] J. Hamari, “Gamification,” in The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, Wiley, 2019, pp. 1–3. doi: 10.1002/9781405165518.wbeos1321.

[9] J. Krath and H. F. O. von Korflesch, “Designing gamification and persuasive systems: a systematic literature review,” in 5th International GamiFIN Conference, CEUR Workshop Proceedings, 2021, pp. 100–109.

[10] T. W. Malone, “Toward a theory of intrinsically motivating instruction,” Cogn Sci, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 333–369, Oct. 1981, doi: 10.1207/s15516709cog0504_2.

[11] T. W. Malone, “Heuristics for designing enjoyable user interfaces: Lessons from computer games,” in Proceedings of the 1982 conference on Human factors in computing systems – CHI ’82, Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA: ACM Press, 1982, pp. 63–68. doi: 10.1145/800049.801756.

[12] S. Deterding, D. Dixon, R. Khaled, and L. Nacke, “From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining ‘Gamification,’” in Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments, in MindTrek ’11. Tampere, Finland: ACM, 2011, pp. 9–15. doi: 10.1145/2181037.2181040.

[13] S. Schöbel et al., “A research agenda for the why, what, and how of gamification designs: Outcomes of an ecis 2019 panel,” Communications of the Association for Information Systems, vol. 46, pp. 706–721, 2020, doi: 10.17705/1CAIS.04630.

[14] A. Mora, D. Riera, C. González, and J. Arnedo-Moreno, “Gamification: a systematic review of design frameworks,” J Comput High Educ, vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 516–548, Dec. 2017, doi: 10.1007/s12528-017-9150-4.

[15] M. Riar, B. Morschheuser, R. Zarnekow, and J. Hamari, “Gamification of cooperation: A framework, literature review and future research agenda,” Int J Inf Manage, vol. 67, p. 102549, Dec. 2022, doi: 10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2022.102549.

[16] G. M. Guillén, D. F. Galeote, N. Sicevic, J. Hamari, and J. Quist, “Gamified apps for sustainable consumption: A systematic review,” CEUR Workshop Proc, vol. 3147, pp. 135–145, 2022.

[17] J. Krath, B. Morschheuser, and H. F. O. von Korflesch, “Designing Gamification for Sustainable Employee Behavior: Insights on Employee Motivations, Design Features and Gamification Elements,” in 55th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), 2022, pp. 1594–1603.

[18] S. Rehm, M. Foth, and P. Mitchell, “DoGood: examining gamification, civic engagement, and collective intelligence,” AI Soc, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 27–37, 2018, doi: 10.1007/s00146-017-0711-x.

[19] S. Bezzina and A. Dingli, “Rethinking Gamification Through Artificial Intelligence,” in HCI in Games. HCII 2023. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 14046., X. Fang, Ed. Springe, Cham, 2023, pp. 252–263. doi: 10.1007/978-3-031-35930-9_17.

[20] T. W. Kim, “Gamification of Labor and the Charge of Exploitation,” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 152, no. 1, pp. 27–39, 2018, doi: 10.1007/s10551-016-3304-6.

[21] D. Lilley and G. T. Wilson, “Integrating ethics into design for sustainable behaviour,” Journal of Design Research, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 278–299, 2013, doi: 10.1504/JDR.2013.056593.

[22] T. W. Kim and K. Werbach, “More than just a game: ethical issues in gamification,” Ethics Inf Technol, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 157–173, 2016, doi: 10.1007/s10676-016-9401-5.

[23] J. Macey and J. Hamari, “Gamblification: A definition,” New Media Soc, p. 146144482210839, Mar. 2022, doi: 10.1177/14614448221083903.

[24] M. Forssell, L. Hassan, M. Turunen, and I. Aura, “Accessibility of Kahoot! And Quizizz,” in The 11th International Conference on Communities and Technologies (C&T), Lahti, Finland: ACM, May 2023, pp. 75–84. doi: 10.1145/3593743.3593760.

[25] J. Koivisto and J. Hamari, “Demographic differences in perceived benefits from gamification,” Comput Human Behav, vol. 35, pp. 179–188, 2014, doi: 10.1016/J.CHB.2014.03.007.

[26] D. B. Köse, B. Morschheuser, and J. Hamari, “Is it a tool or a toy? How user’s conception of a system’s purpose affects their experience and use,” Int J Inf Manage, vol. 49, pp. 461–474, Dec. 2019, doi: 10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2019.07.016.