What is a game in gamification?

There are many varieties of ‘game’, and although there are some shared characteristics, not all of these apply to every kind of game (Callois, 2001).

Salcu and Acatrine (2013) cite Huizinga’s (1971) notion of the magic circle ‘a physical/virtual boundary that divides the world of the game from the real world’ which ‘separates the game world from real world (ex: soccer field), and while in the circle, the game rules matter, not the rules of the real world. The challenge and the opportunity for gamification is how far into the circle the player voluntarily goes. If the player feels that the constraints in the circle are realistic, he/she will be motivated to play’ (p770).

So game players play games. Again, Sacu and Acatrine help in inthe delineation betwen the two: ‘Callois (2001) described “play” as being the expenditure of exuberant energy, whatever is done spontaneously and for its own sake, and free movement within a more rigid structure. Play can be understood as “a type of human experience regardless of the particular activity the individual is engaged in, and not a form of distinct human activity with clear boundaries” (Cantaragiu and Hadad, 2013, p. 835). The gamified sense of play seeks to create a zone of fun and exuberant energy for the player within a contained environment.

Fullerton et al. (2004, p. 5) consider the game as being “a closed formal system that engages players in a structured environment and resolves in an unequal outcome”. It contains a series of meaningful choices and a domain of contrived contingency that generates interpretable outcomes. It is a problem solving activity, approached with a playful attitude. A game is a set of choices, which lead to certain outcomes. The path chosen to lead to the outcome involves an element of freedom – play’ (P770).

Caillois, R. (2001), Man, play and games, The Free Press, USA.
Fullerton, T., Sawain, C. and Hoffman, S. (2004), Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping, and Playtesting Games, CMP Books, San Francisco.
Huizinga, J. (1971), Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture, Beacon Press, USA.

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