The power of interactive learning

The differences between Serious Gaming and Gamification


By Gijs van der Linden

‘Gamification’ and ‘serious gaming’ have become common terms when organisations decide to use games for purposes other than pure fun. During conversations we regularly notice that these terms are getting mixed up.


Serious gaming

When I developed my first game model in the year 2000, serious gaming was my starting point, but the term was still uncommon. I preferred to speak of ‘Management Games’ to emphasise that a Serious Game was more than just ‘a game.’ Since 2002, we have been facilitating Serious Games for a wide variety of organisations. The main goal is learning, but the ‘fun’ element is always of key importance. Indeed, the word ‘game’ to me is inextricably linked with fun. That was also my motivation in setting up my company: give people the opportunity to learn in a fun and safe manner by using interactive live and online games. You are allowed to make mistakes (and that is sometimes desirable to increase the learning effect), because the game is a simulation.

In my opinion, a pitfall of the term ‘serious gaming’ is that Serious Games are taken too seriously. You hear them say ‘the participants shouldn’t laugh; they need to learn something and not just have fun.’ That naturally depends on the context of the game. We all understand that an anti-terrorism game offers less space for fun than a team building game. But no matter which game you play, participants should feel the joy of playing. It must be challenging and bring out the best in everyone.

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Now, the term ‘gamification’ is frequently used in the media. Organisations move with the times by using game principles and techniques in a non-playing context. Companies implement them to motivate employees and/or have them display certain behaviour. For example, setting up a sales competition within a company, where the winners earn a weekend getaway. A well-known example of gamification in everyday live is rewarding safe driving by means of a smiley: your speed is 48 kph on a road with a maximum of 50 kph, so you get to see a happy smiley.

Think carefully about how and where you can successfully implement gamification within your company. A sales team that operates in a highly competitive environment will most likely embrace the idea. However, a financial department that works with strict processes, may find it ‘childish.’ In this situation, gamification can easily be counterproductive.

My experience is that many entrepreneurial employees often apply gamification sub-consciously in their everyday work. Think about the following tasks: pursuing leads, enthusing concerned parties and delivering high-quality products. What is the reward? Satisfied customers. And that translates into sales.


Similarities and differences

The similarity between gamification and serious gaming is learning by playing. The biggest difference is the platform. Gamification plays out in a ‘real environment,’ and it is usually used to influence behaviour by means of rewards. You enhance awareness about good or bad behaviour and hope that participants learn from it. Serious gaming is learning by playing within a safe learning environment. You are allowed to make mistakes and experiment. The primary goal is to learn and apply these new skills and information in everyday practice.

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