Shallow Gamification - Testing Psychological Effects of Framing an Activity as a Game

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DOI: 10.1177/1555412014559978
Abstract
This article experimentally dissociates the psychological impact of framing versus game mechanics, when presenting a serious activity as a game. Studies of game elements in nongame contexts tend to describe full packages, with no way of assessing their individual psychological and functional impact. To isolate the effects of framing, students (N = 90) were assigned to either discuss study environment issues through a list of questions, via a competitive discussion board game, or though the same game artifacts but with no game mechanics. Task engagement and self-reported intrinsic motivation were compared between groups. Results demonstrate that the effects of simply framing the activity as a game though vernacular and artifacts holds almost as much psychological power as the full game mechanics. In both game conditions, interest and enjoyment were significantly superior to controls, but other intrinsic motivation variables remained unchanged. Implications for game design in nongame contexts are discussed, and a framework for differentiating “deep and shallow gamification” in terms of mechanics and framing is developed.
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DOI: 10.1177/1555412014559978
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Andreas Lieberoth
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Shallow Gamification: Testing Psychological Effects of Framing an Activity
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Original Manuscript
Shallow Gamification:
Testing Psychological
Effects of Framing an
Activity as a Game
Andreas Lieberoth
1,2,3
Abstract
This article experimentally dissociates the psychological impact of framing versus
game mechanics, when presenting a serious activity as a game. Studies of game
elements in nongame contexts tend to describe full packages, with no way of
assessing their individual psychological and functional impact. To isolate the
effects of framing, students (N¼90) were assigned to either discuss study
environment issues through a list of questions, via a competitive discussion
board game, or though the same game artifacts but with no game mechanics.
Task engagement and self-reported intrinsic motivation were compared
between groups. Results demonstrate that the effects of simply framing the
activity as a game though vernacular and artifacts holds almost as much psycho-
logical power as the full game mechanics. In both game conditions, interest and
enjoyment were significantly superior to controls, but other intrinsic motivation
variables remained unchanged. Implications for game design in nongame contexts
are discussed, and a framework for differentiating ‘‘deep and shallow gamifica-
tion’’ in terms of mechanics and framing is developed.
1
School of Business and Social Sciences, Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, Aarhus
University, Aarhus, Denmark
2
Interacting Minds Center (IMC), Aarhus University, Denmark
3
Center for Community Driven Research (CODER) Aarhus University, Denmark Center for
Corresponding Author:
Andreas Lieberoth, School of Business and Social Sciences, Department of Psychology and Behavioral
Sciences, Aarhus University, Bartholins Alle 16, Aarhus N, DK-8000, Denmark.
Email: andreas@psy.au.dk
Games and Culture
1-20
ªThe Author(s) 2014
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DOI: 10.1177/1555412014559978
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Keywords
gamification, framing, serious games, game psychology, game mechanics, intrinsic
motivation, experiment
Introduction
Games are becoming pervasive tools for framing, structuring, and motivating activ-
ities, ranging from consumer behavior, over online participation in science, to orga-
nizational processes. The term gamification has gained traction in describing the
piecemeal use of game design elements in nongame contexts (Deterding, Khaled,
Nacke, & Dixon, 2011) or implementing design concepts from games, loyalty pro-
grams, and behavioral economics to drive user engagement (Zichermann & Linder,
2013) but has in common parlance gradually (e.g., Kapp, 2012) come to refer to any
process using games and game-like phenomena in nonleisure settings (Lieberoth,
Møller, & Marin, 2014).
Studies of gamification tend to focus on the effect of piecemeal game mechanics,
and critics often call attention to the psychological impoverishment brought about by
mobilizing only a few game elements like points, badges, leaderboards, and set col-
lection in nongame contexts compare to leveraging full games, in e.g. education or
workplace facilitation (as per Deterding, Khaled, et al., 2011; e.g., Ferrara, 2013). As
such, game mechanics have been disentangled from their places in games, but the
framing of an activity as playful (or gameful, Deterding, Dixon, Khaled, & Nacke,
2011) has yet to be empirically studied as an independent effective component in the
game-based experience.
This study sets out to test the social psychological effects of framing serious tasks
as gaming in a way that is dissociable from the impact of game mechanics and exist-
ing properties of the core task. Our experiment tests the ‘‘framification’’ hypothesis
that the immediate framing of an activity with game elements and vernacular, but
little or no good game mechanics, can still have a measurable psychological impact
on engagement. We used highly recognizable trappings of traditional ‘‘race’’ board
games (i.e., Bell, 1973) to set up a social activity and compared effects on individual
and shared engagement using a randomized controlled setup. Dependent variables
were both subjective and behavioral, following the intrinsic motivation setup (for
a review, see Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999). The board game was chosen for its
simple design requirements and also to address the so far underdescribed practice
of using board- and card game elements as communication and learning tools in
organizations (for exceptions touching on the subjects, see Eisenack, 2012; Rehn,
2008). For instance, titles like Co-Creator and Wallbreakers are used to generate
exchanges among stakeholders and participants with challenges in organizational
processes (for a review of games in organizations, see Henriksen, 2010)
Gamifying serious settings can also generate both engagement and resistance
(Heeter, Lee, Magerko, & Medler, 2011; Shen, Wang, & Ritterfeld, 2006), but little
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effort has been dedicated to study what happens to engagement and productivity
when players know that they are ‘‘just’’ playing a game. So an emerging question
is: Can the social and psychological frames of gaming and serious work coexist?
By looking to the social processes going on in nondigital games, through the lens
of experimental social psychology, we can learn much about the basic social and
cognitive factors that come into at play when simulations and games are deployed
in the workplace. Ninety psychology students were divided into three conditions
and given different materials to facilitate discussions about a recent student’s satis-
faction survey designed to mirror a workplace evaluation processes. Some played a
simple ‘‘race-and-quiz’’ game with performance-contingent progress, where the best
discussion facilitator would win. Others were given a mock version with no game-
play beyond superficial turn taking. Controls worked from written instructions
alone. It was found that the mock ‘‘frame only’’ game materials worked just as well
(or bad) as the real thing in terms of intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2008), but
with added experiences of interest and engagement. A significant part of the subjec-
tive engagement experienced in game situations would thus seem attributable to
social and psychological framing alone.
Psychological and Mechanical Constituents of the Gaming Frame
Positive experiences in games used for serious purposes might stem from a combi-
nation of mechanics, superficial but alluring outward design, and the expectations of
fun generated when people believe they are about to play a game. Indeed, visual
appeal and simple interactions seem to be among the strongest psychological attrac-
tors for the casual gamer (Juul, 2010). Core mechanics and aesthetic production val-
ues in serious games may seem impoverished compared to successful commercial
titles, especially in the fast-moving digital realm, but psychological criteria like
effort, valorization of outcome, competence, autonomy, and relatedness (Juul,
2005; Rigby & Ryan, 2011) can still be sparked by the frame alone.
The emerging game science literature defines games as systems or activities
made out of certain recurring constituent parts, which are sometimes described in
psychological terms and other times as game mechanical elements. For instance,
McGonigal lists goal, rules, feedback system, and voluntary participation
(2011)—a mix of psychological and design-oriented features. Rigby and Ryan
(2011) focus on strictly psychological factors, namely, games’ ability to satisfy
competence,autonomy, and relatedness. Framing is strongly present in defining fea-
tures like voluntary participation in games (McGonigal, 2011), as well as in their
artificial (Salen & Zimmerman, 2004), abstract (Koester, 2004), and/or fictional
(Juul, 2005) nature, in the negotiable consequences (Juul, 2005) and centrally accep-
tance of rules, goals, and outcomes on the player’s part (Juul, 2005; Koester, 2004;
McGonigal, 2011; Salen & Zimmerman, 2004). A key component to game engage-
ment thus seems to be the way people understand differences between situations,
such as playing versus arguing (Bateson, 1972; Goffman, 1976). Frames enable us
Lieberoth 3
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to more or less consciously navigate the different situations that confront us in our
daily lives and activate cognitive and cultural scripts (Schank & Abelson, 1977)
and schemas (Bartlett, 1932). As one layman author puts it, writing about the plea-
sure found in the repetitive chores in World of Warcraft: ‘‘The difference for these
teenagers was that these small mundane tasks were considered fun, because it was
done in the game world’’ (Marczewski, 2012, pp. 176, 700). This is not to advocate
a strict separate worlds view (as per Stevens, Satwicz, & McCarthy, 2008) between
games, cognition, and reality but to highlight the fact that participants are able to
identify a game as a particular kind of activity with implicit rules (Bergstro¨m,
2010) accompanied by expectations of playful engagement (Apter, 1991; Suits,
1972). Gameplay emerges in this dynamic but is rarely determined by the game
mechanics alone. There are often many ways to play the same game dependent
on informally negotiated rules, mindsets, and the context of play (Elias, Gar-
field, & Gutschera, 2012; Kallio, Ma¨yra¨, & Kaipainen, 2010).
The cognitive and behavioral effect of framing on behavior is well known within
social psychology (Cesario, Corker, & Jelinek, 2013; Landau, Keefer, & Rothschild,
2014), where experiments can be used to manipulate how the stakes, outcomes, and
social configurations of different decision tasks are experienced (Ku
¨hberger, 1998;
McNeil, Pauker, Sox, & Tversky, 1982; Reyna et al., 2011; Tversky & Kahneman,
1974). Framing effects have also been discussed at some length in the study of
games and media (de Freitas, Rebolledo-Mendez, Liarokapis, Magoulas, & Poulo-
vassilis, 2010; Deterding, 2009; Harviainen & Lieberoth, 2011; Scheufele, 1999) but
rarely as an empirically testable constituent of gameplay psychology.
This understanding of frames as central to the gaming experience leads to the
working hypotheses that simply framing an activity as a game should lead to changes
in behavior and subjective experience of intrinsic motivation.
Here, framing devices are thus understood as elements dissociable form
mechanics. Sicart (2008, p. 2) defines game mechanics as ‘‘methods invoked by
agents, designed for interaction with the game state.’’ Translated into nonvideo
game terms, this refers to the designed-for junctions during the activity, where play-
ers and parts of the game influence each other directly. For instance, drawing a lucky
card and getting the last ‘‘cheese’’ in Trivial Pursuit significantly alters the game
state, with a new goal of getting to the middle. In video games, most rules are pre-
programmed and must be learned through play. Aesthetics and narrative elements
may also have mechanical functions as mediators of goals, feedback, and interaction
affordances. In addition, most games suppose a well-defined game space, which is
often shared and supported by physical artifacts like wii-motes, playing cards, wres-
tling rings, or simply a particular use of a coin (e.g., flipping and trying to bounce it
into a cup). Form and material artifacts, in other words, hold psychological and cul-
tural meanings in addition to serving practical mechanical purposes.
Framing thus exists in a reciprocally constituting relationship to materiality and
rule mechanics: Their presence helps constitute the frame as well as structuring the
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activity, but conversely, acceptance of the emerging gaming mind-set also orients
players toward mechanical game elements.
Intrinsic Motivation as Measure of Engagement
In most cases, the goal of applying games in serious settings is to create sustained
engagement (Rigby & Ryan, 2011), with subjective experiences of enjoyment as
a happy but loudly touted by-product. Intrinsic motivation can be defined as the
doing of an activity for its inherent satisfaction, rather than some separable conse-
quence (Ryan & Deci, 2000, p. 56) which conceptually translates into the notion
of paratelic engagement (Apter, 1991; as per Suits, 1972)— or fun. This study
adapted the self-determination theory’s (SDT) Intrinsic Motivation Inventories
(IMIs), which have been widely applied to learning and work, and also gaming
(Bumpus, Olbeter, & Glover, 1998; Deci et al., 1999; Ryan, Rigby, & Przybylski,
2006). Deci’s (1980) theory centrally holds that intrinsic motivation stems not only
from the immediately observable relationship of a task with rewards (social, mate-
rial, or otherwise) but also from the reward’s function as meaningful feedback in the
perception of self-propelled progress. According to the theory, competence, auton-
omy, and social relatedness constitute three basic psychological motives that games
are ideally poised to fulfill (Rigby & Ryan, 2011; Ryan et al., 2006). Intrinsic motiva-
tion has been showed to work at several contextual levels, from being an active sports
practitioner down to individual matches (Blanchard, Mask, Vallerand, de la Sablon-
nie`re, & Provencher, 2007), or from school in general down to an autonomy-
hampering experience reflecting negatively on motivation in subsequent classes
(Radel, Pelletier, Baxter, Fournier, & Sarrazin, 2014). However, factors like achieve-
ment orientation have also been known to influence enjoyment stemming from clas-
sical game elements like competition (Tauer & Harackiewicz, 1999), meaning that
there is no one-size-fits-all relationship between game design and intrinsic interest and
enjoyment. In accordance with the SDT tradition, the study reported here used both
behavioral measures of time spent on task and the six-subscale IMI battery to measure
intrinsic motivation. The interest/enjoyment subscale with its items on ‘‘fun,’’ ‘‘bore-
dom,’’ and sustained attention was of particular interest, because the IMI (1994)
defines it as the central single measure of intrinsic motivation.
Method
Participants
Ninety volunteers were recruited from a third year psychology student cohort
(72 females, ages 20–43, M¼23.49, SD ¼3.355) and randomly assigned to three
conditions: Full game, framing, or controls (core task only; see Table 1).
Participants were told that INPUT (without any mention of gaming) is a popular
business consulting tool under consideration by the university for future student
satisfaction surveys (deception). Participants would take part in a pilot designed
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as a randomized controlled trial to evaluate different incarnations of the product.
Their inputs would reach the department head of studies (true). No credits or mon-
etary compensation were offered in accordance with Danish university standards,
but participants were given refreshments after the study.
Table 1. The Three Experimental Conditions.
Core task Control
N¼23
Instruction sheet
Input sheet w./rating stars
pr. item
Discussion prompts on paper
sheet
Five clusters of six participants took
turns reading questions from a list
The reader facilitated a brief
discussion and noted down inputs,
possibly directed by an icon on the
list
a
The group then rated the discussion
item and their own inputs with one
to five stars
Game Conditions Game condition 1
Form
N¼22
Instruction sheet
Input sheet w./rating stars
pr. item
Pawns on game board
Discussion prompts on game
cards
Five clusters of six participants took
turns moving pawns to the next
vacant space, drawing a facedown
card, and reading it
The reader facilitated a brief
discussion and noted down inputs,
possibly directed by an icon on the
game board
The group then rated the discussion
item and their own inputs with one
to five stars
Game condition 2
Form þMechanics
N¼25
Instruction sheet
Input sheet w./rating stars
pr. item
Pawns on game board
Discussion prompts on game
cards
Five clusters of six participants took
turns drawing a facedown card, and
reading it
The reader facilitated a brief
discussion and noted down inputs,
possibly directed by an icon on the
board
b
The group then rated the discussion
item and their own inputs with one
to five stars
The reader was then allowed to
move his piece along the track
contingent on the number of stars
given. The player who progressed
the furthest was declared the
winner
Note. ‘‘rating stars’’ refers to the in-game rating of items and players’ own responses. N¼30 participants
in each group before missing data.
a
Icons on the control condition sheets were assigned with the same frequency as on the game-board.
b
Four icon cards allowing players to assign stipulations to another participant’s discussion card were
mixed into the deck for added interaction.
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Design
Participants were set to do to the same core task, but with different framing through
artifacts and assistants’ descriptions: One framing group was given the task with
game artifacts (a game board, cards with discussion items, and pawns), to which
was added some simple competitive mechanics for a second full game group. The
control group did the core activity, but with nicely layouted paper sheets as
step-by-step instructions, to structure the activity. The core task can be summar-
ized as a social discussion in clusters of five to six people prompted by written
cues, with participants taking turns facilitating the conversation and writing down
feedback for the department. IMI and behavioral measures were used to test the
hypothesis that the framing effects of these manipulations could be measured in
terms of between-group differences in intrinsic motivation.
Materials
The six-player board game, titled INPUT, was designed following the recognizable
race/quiz formula known from family games, like Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary (see
Figure 1). Fourteen of the 28 fields on the game board included icons prompting
players to direct their discussion toward a particular group of stakeholders (myself,
us, the faculty, and the university). Pawns were placed on ‘‘start.’’ Cards with dis-
cussion prompts were packed in a random-looking order. To mirror workplace eva-
luations, items for discussion were chosen from all areas where our department
performed subpar in the 2011 student satisfaction survey (e.g., too few students feel
that they encounter their teachers outside the lecture halls), paired with a direct
prompt/question for discussion (e.g., what could be behind this statistic? or what
could be done about it?). Instructions and printed materials for each condition dif-
fered only in how to actually play the game/read the prompts and strategically placed
framing vernacular like ‘‘play,’’ ‘‘player’’ and ‘‘game,’’ in order to ensure similarity
between the conditions at all levels, except game elements.
In the control condition, participants were given the same core task, but on sheets
of paper with discussion items (including icons in the same order as on the game
board) appearing as a step-by-step list. Prominent graphics like the INPUT logo
were featured in the control condition’s materials to ensure a somewhat similar aes-
thetic feel.
Procedure
After being given the cover story and randomly assigned to the three conditions, par-
ticipants were ushered off to three separate rooms. Clusters of six participants were
created ad hoc around tables containing the materials and instructed on their tasks
based on the (game) materials. Discussion clusters were encouraged to proceed at
their own pace but not devote too much time to each question. Each cluster of
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players was supplied with printed rules/instructions and an INPUT sheet for writing
down their ideas and comments during the activity but encouraged to submit elec-
tronically, using an online SurveyXact-sheet, which supported time stamps for start
and completion.
Participants were mandatorily engaged in the activity for 30 min, after which an
assistant told them that the final evaluation questionnaire had not arrived yet and that
they had to stay seated to avoid contaminating the experiment (deception—a false
finish). Assistants quoted the script ‘‘you can go on playing/working if you like,
or you can do something else. As long as you stay put.’’ This started the 20-min
free-choice period, where the groups’ time on-task was monitored via SurveyXact
time stamps and end-time noted on paper. After the free-choice period, evaluation
questionnaires (paper and link to an online version) were distributed with our (fake)
apologies (see Figure 2).
A formal debriefing was given on the following lecture. Here, students were
informed of the experiment’s true purposes. A show of hands revealed that no one
Figure 1. Input game materials.
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Figure 2. Experimental procedure (50 min play þbriefing/debriefing and self-report questionnaires).
9
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had figured out the design, so no data were excluded from analysis on those grounds.
The university ethics board did not review the experiment, given its nonclinical
nature.
Measures
The IMI was used for self-report measures of engagement with 38 items distributed
on the subscales interest/enjoyment (7), value/usefulness (7), importance/effort (5)
and of course competence (6), autonomy (7), and relatedness (6).
Four items gauged whether the stimulus materials were convincing at face value,
as a professionally made consultant’s tool (as per the cover story), and 1 item gauged
whether it came across like a game. A 13-item Crown and Marlowe’s (1960) Social
Desirability Scale (trans. Lasgaard, Goossens, & Elklit, 2011) was used to test for
pleasing behavior.
Behavioral engagement was measured as the time six-person discussion clusters
would spend on-task during a 20-min free-choice period, in accordance with the
intrinsic motivation literature. The number of items addressed was also counted. The
number of items addressed was expected to be a secondary indication of engagement
and productivity.
The six-person discussion clusters were asked to rate the quality/importance of
each discussion item and the quality/importance of their own inputs after each dis-
cussion on scales from one to five ‘‘stars.’’ In Game condition 2, these in-game eva-
luations were also used as a performance contingent game mechanics (see Table 1).
Data Analysis
Ninety self-report questionnaires were collected. Behavioral data were successfully
recorded for 12 discussion clusters of five to six participants (two for Game condi-
tion 1, five for Game condition 2, and five for controls).
The data were analyzed using IMB SPSS 20.0 with Tukey’s post hoc tests applied
to one-way analyses of variance (ANOVAs). Missing values were handled using
mean imputation, where subjects had filled in over 80%of each self-report scale
(as per Schafer & Graham, 2002). IMI scales (a¼.743–.882) displayed good coher-
ence before mean imputation. One item was removed from the Social Desirability
Scale to achieve an acceptable avalue (12 items, a¼.649). Although slightly above
neutral (M¼3.337, SD ¼0.439), it showed a small positive correlation only with
the autonomy IMI subscale, r(89) ¼.239, p< .024. Pleasing behavior thus did not
appear to play a significant role in participants’ self-reports. Aggregating the data
into clusters and running a linear regression weighted by number of individuals in
each nested group yielded no significant overall differences between the clusters.
As predicted, main effects on the self-report measures seem to be found at condition
level. No significant effects on IMI scales were found for gender. Age showed a
small negative correlation only with relatedness, r(88) ¼.281, p< .008. Centrally,
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the face-value item ‘‘INPUT was like a game’ confirmed the basic premise that both
game conditions would generate a more gamelike psychological frame than in the
control task, F(2, 69) ¼19.424, p< .001, partial Z
2
¼0.367. A Tukey’s post hoc
test revealed significant differences (p< .05–.001) between all three conditions:
Game condition 2 ranked highest (M¼3.68, SD ¼1.069), Game condition 1 fell
somewhat lower (M¼2.95, SD ¼1.133), and controls on average did not find their
activity gamelike at all (M¼1.83, SD ¼0.887). A similar confirmation emerged for
the 4-item scale (a¼.835) gauging whether INPUT comes across as a professional
consultancy tool, F(2, 68 ¼8.562, p< .001, partial Z
2
¼0.206, except here the two
game conditions (M¼3.524, SD ¼0.921 and M¼3.510, SD ¼0.765) both ranged
above controls (M¼2.652, SD ¼0.771) with no significant difference between
them. After accounting for missing values, such as lacking identity markers and
some unreliable time stamps resulting from technical issues with SurveyXact, 70
participants’ self-reports (control n¼23, Game 1 n¼22, Game 2 n¼25), but only
12 discussion clusters with just 2 of these (N¼11 individuals) in Game Condition 1,
could be treated as part of one of the three experimental conditions.
Results
A one-way ANOVA revealed a significant difference in interest/enjoyment
between the conditions, F(2, 67) ¼8.223, p< .001, with a small-to-medium effect
size (Z
2
¼0.197). A Tukey’s post hoc test revealed that both Game condition 1
(form; M¼3.247, SD ¼0.854) and Game condition 2 (form þmechanics; M¼
3.366, SD ¼0.596) reported significantly higher (p<.007andp< .001, respec-
tively) interest/enjoyment than controls (M¼2.602, SD ¼0.614). No other IM-
subscales differed significantly between groups (Figure 3). All conditions reported
above medium totaled intrinsic motivation scale scores (M¼3.24–3.53), with no
significant differences between the three conditions, F(2, 68) ¼2.204 p< .118.
Behavioral data (Figure 4) were largely inconclusive. A Kruskal–Wallis test
uncovered no statistically reliable difference on the time the successfully recorded
discussion clusters (N¼12) spent on task (M¼43.385, SD ¼8.180) in Game con-
ditions 1 (M¼37.385, SD ¼1.280), 2 (M¼37.385, SD ¼1.2799), and controls
(M¼45.508, SD ¼2.638).
Controls addressed significantly more items (M¼9.800, SD ¼2.168, mean rank
¼8.50) than both Game condition 1 (M¼5.500, SD ¼0.707, mean rank ¼1.75)
and Game condition 2 (M¼7.667, SD ¼1.155, mean rank ¼5.00), H(2) ¼
6.702, p< .035, (overall M¼8.090, SD ¼2.343). There were no significant differ-
ences in average in-game evaluations.
The experience of INPUT as gamelike was significantly (p< .002) related to over-
all IM, r(89) ¼0.450, and to IMI subscales interest/enjoyment, value/usefulness, com-
petence, and autonomy with medium-to-large effect sizes. Similarly, the perception of
INPUT as a professional tool was positively correlated (ps < .002–.001) with IM, r(89)
¼0.656, and subscales, except for relatedness. See the matrix for full results.
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Discussion
The study confirms that framing has a significant effect on enjoyment, when a task is
presented as a game.
First, adding game artifacts significantly enhanced players’ face-value experi-
ence of INPUT as gamelike compared to controls, but only on the interest/enjoyment
subscale of intrinsic motivation, which within the self-determination framework
(IMI, 1994; Rigby & Ryan, 2011; R. M. Ryan et al., 2006) translates into the ‘‘fun’
of games.
Second, game mechanics only made a difference at the level of game likeness.
Having performance-contingent rules, where one player is declared the winner,
apparently made the experience seem more like a real game, but this translated into
neither significantly more fun nor motivation.
Third, the behavioral data must be viewed as largely inconclusive, as they lead to
neither acceptance nor rejection of the null hypothesis—largely due to missing data.
Control participants, who were only given comparably boring sheets of paper with
Figure 3. Intrinsic Motivation Inventory self-report results.
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instructions and a bit of graphical varnish did, however, generate more outputs than
gaming participants. I surmise that that adding a playful frame to the task actually
took away some of the grit and output orientation of more goal-oriented work. If
at all significant, the numbers could simply stem from extra time spent fidgeting
with game artifacts and understanding game rules or from more thorough discus-
sions. We don’t know whether the high-producing clusters worked harder or simply
skipped more superficially across each item. This detrimental effect of adding a
lighter frame to serious activities, or alternatively its ability to engage people in con-
versations at a deeper level, is worth investigating further.
Ultimately, the fact that main effects on the intrinsic motivation variables were
only found in the interest/enjoyment subscale leads to the overall conclusion that
making something look like a game makes it seem more fun, but other motivational
variables remain largely unchanged.
Game artifacts and game vernacular thus seem to be good bare-bone tools for
making a rudimentary task more engaging at face value and creating a lighter
mind-set. It seems that the genre of consultancy/training games INPUT was modeled
after is therefore well suited to engage participants in infrequent activities, by virtue
of their ability to frame and structure, even without the mechanics that most game
designers strive to perfect.
Figure 4. Mean time spent on task during free-choice period in each condition.
Lieberoth 13
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We have ascribed this positive impact to framing effects resulting from recogniz-
able game artifacts and strategically used vernacular. Simple novelty effects repre-
sent an alternative explanation. Presenting people with new and complex
experiences is known to generate interest (Berlyne, 1954, 1970), so it is quite pos-
sible that the thin varnish in Game condition 1 would wear off, while players chal-
lenged by Condition 2’s relatively more competitive mechanics and thus more
variable game possibility space might to explore new strategies and strengthen their
sense of personal competence and autonomy in the longer term. Processes intended
to create replayability and sustained engagement may thus still need to focus on
well-tuned mechanics, even if an alluring gamelike form is fine for creating interest
and enjoyment in briefer activities. The contribution of the game materials relative
to social presentation (assistants speaking of the task as game or work) is unknown,
but dissociating the two by splitting Condition 1 into further subgroups is an inter-
esting line for potential future inquiry.
So how does this address the foundational debate about effective elements in
gamification? In its broadest current use (e.g., Kapp, 2012), the term means the pro-
cess of designing and using games for any serious purposes, but a more narrow def-
inition entails applying only game mechanics—often limited to points, badges,
quests, and leaderboards guided by simple behaviorist notions of motivation (e.g.,
Marczewski, 2012; Zichermann & Linder, 2010). In other words, traditional
Figure 5. Framing and mechanics as characteristics of shallow gamification.
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gamification seeks to structure and motivate activities like chores, shopping, or
learning in a gamelike manner, without the framing that normally codifies an activ-
ity as a kind of game. This study in a sense legitimizes simple alluring designs that
frame activities as games but spare both designers and participants an overabun-
dance of rules and mechanics. These two design strategies—‘‘framification’’ versus
gamification—represent two widely used dimensions of the shallow end of the
gamification and applied games spectrum, which might be viewed as opposing quad-
rants of a 2 2 model (see Figure 5), where full games occupy the top-left quadrant.
Limitations
Collecting data at the level of six-person discussion clusters made the study vulner-
able to several cases of missing behavioral data. In some instances, it was impossible
to place respondent data reliably in a condition or discussion cluster. The study
encountered several other challenges related to the social nature of our tasks. Indeed,
research continues to call attention to cultural and social processes ‘‘in-room’’ that
strongly affect cognition ‘‘in-game’’ (Stevens et al., 2008). For instance, it is hard to
predict whether individuals would have left the activity much earlier or would pri-
vately have liked to continue playing when their group stopped. Further, discussion
clusters were seated around tables in the same room for each condition, so it is likely
that overall in-room events, such as the first cluster collectively disengaging from
the task, influenced the entire condition. This could even negatively affect self-
reports about the experience as a whole, as individuals might feel less intrinsically
motivated in retrospect, due to group coercion. However, high levels on the related-
ness measure throughout, makes this unlikely. Although it would entail an entirely
different study, ethnographic observation of players’ interactions, including detailed
analysis of the time dedicated to subactivities like off-task chatter, mechanics, and
serious discussions, would offer important glimpses into the round-table dynamics
in a game like INPUT.
Since we took great pains making three conditions that were similar in all other
aspects than game form and mechanics, what we created for Game condition 2 was
not a great game by any stretch of the imagination. Although not significant, it is
however worth noticing that players in Condition 2 answered more positively than
both Condition 1 and controls on all self-report variables other than relatedness: A
tendency that future studies might be able to boost with better game mechanics.
Future Directions
The evidence-based literature on effective gamification components is still scattered
between applications and far from a point where systematic meta-analysis is possible
(Hamari, Koivisto, & Sarsa, 2014). Because just positing gamification as a lie like
Ferrara (2013) or bombarding interested practitioners with proposed use cases
(Bowser, Preece, & Hansen, 2013; Zichermann & Linder, 2010) is uninteresting and
Lieberoth 15
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counterproductive, researchers and practitioners alike are realizing the need to
knuckle down and register effect data—not just from subjective evaluations but also
observable behavior and net gains in the intended setting. Also, more studies should
try to break clusters of game elements down to individual functional units, to dis-
sociate which traditionally suggested gamification tricks work on their own or in
conjunction, in what context, and on what psychological and behavioral dimensions
impacts can be detected (for an unsuccesful attempt, see Lieberoth, Kock, Marin,
Planke, & Sherson, 2014).
Framing effects can also be moderated by a host of other factors, such as person-
ality traits (Levin, Gaeth, Schreiber, & Lauriola, 2002). While this study does con-
sider pleasing behavior and issues of face-value acceptance, future research should
address the deeper predictor structures arising from demographic factors (e.g., see
Kovisto & Hamari, 2014; Lieberoth, Kock, et al., 2014), personality variables and
even preferred play style (Heeter, 2009; Yee, 2007).
There was no right or wrong in the discussion tasks used in this study—just the
structured democratic notion of letting everyone contribute to an evaluation of their
shared educational environment. Future studies might be interested in whether framing
of fun versus seriousness affects the quality and not quantity of performance, including
creative and rote problem solving.
Conclusion
The experiment presented here supports the notion that framing accounts for a
significant part of the psychological impact games have on fun, engagement,
and other participation dynamics.
Overall, the effects of adding a ‘‘shallow’’ game coating to an otherwise serious
activity were found at the level of enjoyment and face-value appreciation of the
activity as gamelike—not engagement in a broader sense. The addition of compet-
itive game mechanics surprisingly did not make a difference.
Framing training activities or social exchanges with a gamelike design is an
effective way to engage people around a table and can capitalize on simple physical
artifacts to motivate and structure cognition and behavior. This study indicates that
good game mechanics are a nicety that may sometimes be psychologically second-
ary to the more shallow signals conveyed by the game artifacts themselves.
Acknowledgments
The author wishes to express his gratitude to Sigurd Rubech Hartmeyer-Dinesen for graphic
design, Kristina Schoemmel, Noomi Matthiesen, and Jesper Aagaard for their assistance run-
ning the experiment, and Klaus Nielsen and Andreea Marin for proof and comments.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
16 Games and Culture
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Funding
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article: The author produced this research under funding from the
Aarhus University PhD program in psychology and behavioral sciences.
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Author Biography
Andreas Lieberoth is an applied game psychology researcher at the Interacting Minds
Centre, Aarhus University and an associated researcher and game designer at the Centre for
Community Driven Research (CODER). His PhD was in cognitive and educational psychol-
ogy. He has (co-)designed several games, both digital and analogue. His academic work cen-
ters on the social psychology and cognitive neuroscience of gaming, especially in the context
of game-based learning and citizen cyberscience, with current focus on dissociating the
individual psychologically functional elements of game designs.
20 Games and Culture
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  • Conference Paper
    The paper describes the need for expansion of the role of human-computer interaction (HCI) professionals into the field of e-health interventions, including games, virtual reality, and social media. Authors summarize critical practical, methodological, and philosophical gaps that prevent further synergy and collaboration. The necessity for closing these gaps is guided through a discussion on ethics and a health equity framework.
  • Thesis
    Full-text available
    For a long time, information systems have been designed to provide organizational utility, efficiency, and cost reduction. As technological advancement took place, information systems grew to further facilitate personal productivity and entertainment. Out of modern systems, games have an extraordinary reach in modern society. That reach eventually became too significant to ignore without systematic study. While many individuals recognize the value of and need for hard work in life, many—perhaps all—do not wish to live in a universe of pure work or passive engagement with their life’s activities. In that light, scholars began investigating game design as a means to attain enjoyment and motivation in mundane life activities, giving birth to the gamification movement as we know it today. As a design and research stream, gamification refers to the design of systems, services, and processes to provide “gameful” experiences—psychological experiences, similar to those provided by games—to positively influence engagement with mundane life activities. While the user benefits reported from implementing gamification showcase its potentially positive impact, the understanding of how to design gamification is still in its infancy. Some gamification designs may be suitable to some users or in certain contexts, but the same designs may not have the same results for different users or in different contexts. Furthermore, current methods to design gamification have been developed in isolation, each reinventing the wheel, and hence struggle to provide comprehensive guidance for the gamification design process. This dissertation employs the goal-setting theory, showcasing how gamification design can suit the preferences of different users. The dissertation additionally investigates contextualized gamification design by employing the deliberation theory and researching design for collective, group engagement such as is seen in the context of civic engagement. Finally, the dissertation contributes a holistic gamification design method that incorporates the design knowledge currently gathered in the gamification fields, as well as lessons learned from the failure of gamification projects. The contributions complement each other and provide a multi-dimensional gamification design knowledge on how gamification should be designed. While this dissertation has theoretically and practically contributed to the knowledge on gamification design, there is more to be researched before gamification design can come close to being perfect. The journey to gamify is merely commencing. Not only is this pursuit of how to gamify essential to understand a phenomenon and the human behavior around it, but it is also essential to create a gameful reality, one not of pure work but of enjoyment, motivation, persistence and flow.
  • Chapter
    Full-text available
    Crisis exercises are known to teach good practices for real situations, revealing the weaknesses of an organization facing the crisis, or increasing the awareness that a crisis is possible. By focusing the design and analysis of the exercises mostly on a rational appraisal ex post facto, the essence of what happens during such a simulation is often lost. We call "playful dynamics" or "Ludicity" (from Ludus, not to be confused with lucidity), this evanescent state that binds players strongly in the same liminal space but disappears as soon as the simulation ceases. In this chapter, we are interested in the playful dynamics at work when a group of trainees agrees to consider seriously, for a few hours, that they will live together a virtual crisis situation, and especially (1) the key components of Lucidity, (2) the manifestations of the Ludicity, and (3) how to manage the Ludicity. To this end, we draw on the lessons learned from analyzes of playful simulation, as well as the reflections of live action role-playing game players on their practices.