Why The Gamification Movement Misses Out On Five Thousand Years Of Experience (And What To Do About It)

Much is being said about what game mechanics, which game mechanics exist and what they mean for gamification and serious or applied gaming. And I would like to add my two cents to the confusion by introducing board game mechanics as opposed to computer game mechanics.


Senet; one of the world’s oldest games.

When learninig about gamification I noticed that the world of board games has almost no representation in gamification and serious gaming. If board games are mentioned, than mostly in the introduction of a book, with a line like ‘people have been playing games since the advent of civilization’ which is true and could point us to a huge and valuable tradition to be resourced for the development of gamification. But these five thousand years of board games are only used as a piece of trivia to support the idea of games being important. I think that by doing this, the gamification  movement is missing out on some great resources. The reason behind this is undoubtedly the digital roots of the gamification movement and the digitally focused time we live in.

I plan to do a lot more research and writing on this topic, since I come from the world of analogue games, but for now I just wanted to show you the confusion, just to mess with your head 🙂


Sources: Computer Game Mechanics: http://gamification.org/wiki/Game_Mechanics Board Game Mechanics: http://boardgaming.com/mechanics

By comparing these two lists, it becomes apparent that there is a need for some sort of standarized definition of a game mechanic. For example ‘loss aversion’ in the computer mechanics list, seems like a desired behavior to me, which might be stimulated by mechanics like ‘variable difficulty levels’ in the other list. Luckiliy, I am not the first one to recognize sucvh a need for clarity and even more luckily, others have already acted on this insight. Andrzej Marczewski’s great blog on gamification has a pretty good post on this topic.

However, he also says something in this post that I can’t agree with. After he defines the nature of game mechanics, he goes on to say that gamifiers can forget about them, since they are the sole resposibility of game developers and programmers. This must be wrong. Of course designing a gamified process is about stimulating the desired behavior and how this is done technically, is another person’s job. But you can only expertly design games if you know what techniques are at your disposal. So an intimate knowledge of game mechanics and their different applications is very beneficial to the design of great gamified products.


Again, incorporating board game culture and knowledge into the movement of gamification is a promising way of meeting the challenges that gamification experts are going to face in the near future. Because remember: The Future Of Online Is Offline! Integrating digital network technology with our daily, social lives will shift our focus away from the digital screens and back into the social world. This integration is now picking up great speed with wearable devices, the Internet of Things and ubiquitus computing.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have on this matter. Do you think board game culture could be helpful to the gamification movement?


2 thoughts on “Why The Gamification Movement Misses Out On Five Thousand Years Of Experience (And What To Do About It)

  1. Hi

    Great article and thanks for including my mechanics blog!

    To clarify the point about gamifiers not worrying about mechanics and leaving them to the developers. This is possibly a bit extreme, but made my point. The person who designing the system initially, does not need to worry about proper game mechanics and balance. I am talking about the nuts and bolts, maths and the like. Of course they need to know what to use and where, but at the design stage that is all they need. When it hits development and rebalancing, that is where you need to work with the pure mechanics. Gamification uses mechanics in a much more abstract way – ideas rather than real mechanics.


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