Keeping Up With... Gamification

KUW Gamification

This edition of Keeping Up With... was written by Bohyun Kim.

Bohyun Kim is Digital Access Librarian at Florida International University Medical Library. Bohyun can be reached at

What is gamification?

Successful games provide an ideal environment that motivates and empowers people through making their own choices and performing a series of challenging tasks that match their knowledge and skills at gradually increasing levels of complexity. When we play a game, we not only enjoy ourselves but also become more creative, productive, and hard-working. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we can perform non-game tasks in the real world as productively and creatively as we do when we play a game? This is the goal of gamification. Gamification is the process of applying game-thinking and game dynamics, which make a game fun, to the non-game context in order to engage people and solve problems. Commercial video games have been popular for years. But the recent rapid adoption of the smartphone and the large online social networks such as Facebook and Twitter brought a new meaning to the word, 'game,' and how it relates to our lives. Games are no longer confined to the entertainment industry. They have become portable activities interwoven with reality.

Gamification adds a virtual layer to the physical world.

Popular location-based apps provide good examples of how gamification can enhance day-to-day tasks. Nike+ adds the element of fun and competition to everyday exercise by gamifying the running experience. It tracks a player's running time and distance and connects with the player with his or her runner friends on Facebook at the same time. Foursquare allows a player to check in when s/he is visiting a place, whether it is a pub, a movie theater, or a park. Through such check-ins, people earn points, collect badges such as "Gym rat" and "Adventurer," and become the mayor of a place that they frequent. People can also add photos and comments about the place and share them with their Foursquare friends. Another mobile app, Epic Win, gamifies a to-do list. Whenever a player completes a quest, i.e. an item on the to-do list, Epic Win awards points and presents surprise loots for certain quests. These mobile apps gamify mundane daily activities by applying game dynamics such as points, leaderboard, and badges to them.

Gamification can act as a motivational tool in higher education.

Gamification can add an extra level of motivation and incentive to many higher education activities. Games encourage us to improve our performance by providing immediate and detailed feedback and systematically guiding us with all the necessary information for progress. This is a mechanism that can be applied to the classroom. According to the 2012 Horizon Report, game-based learning will become increasingly widespread in higher education over the next few years1 and the 2013 Horizon Report predicted that institutions in higher education would adopt games and gamification within two to three years2. Dartmouth College and Webster University gamified their new student orientation with SCVNGR, a location-based app with customizable treks and challenges3. Purdue University is experimenting with digital badges, which are one of the common game elements4, and developed two mobile apps, Passport and Passport Profile that allow instructors and students to create, award, earn, and display digital badges for a variety of learning activities. At the University of Michigan and University of California, Los Angeles, faculty members gamified an undergraduate seminar class5 and a final exam6 respectively for better learning outcomes.

Academic libraries are using gamification for instructional and promotional activities.

Academic libraries can use the move towards gamification in higher education as a way to promote their collections and further engage and motivate students to learn more about library resources and services. Inspired by Picture the Impossible, an online game developed by the Rochester Institute of Technology's Lab for Social Computing and the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper in 2009, the Henry Madden Library at California State University-Fresno (Fresno State) created an online orientation game named HML-IQ in order to familiarize students with library resources and services. This game was embedded into the Fresno State course management system, Blackboard, and each week a different game such as an online hangman game or a printed crossword puzzle was provided7.

The University of Huddersfield Library in the U.K. has built a social online game called Lemontree that allows library patrons to earn points and badges through their usual library transactions such as borrowing a library material and to display those badges in their social networks such as Facebook or Twitter8. The North Carolina State University (NCSU) Libraries gamified traditional library instruction by creating a mobile scavenger hunt that has met with great success and resulted in an increase in the number of library instruction sessions for ENG 101 classes9. Not all library gamification efforts have been successful, however. The University of California, Merced Library's recent experiment with SCVNGR in 2012 met with a very low turnout in spite of the library's heavy promotional campaign10.


Gamification in libraries is at a very early stage of development. Designing the fun gaming experience is difficult, and this becomes even more challenging when the subject of gamification is educational. Before experimenting with gamification, libraries need to closely examine the context of the gamification. Is the aspect of library experience in question suitable for gamification? Is the resulting game experience something the target group would enjoy? What is the ultimate goal of gamifying this particular aspect of library experience? What are the logistical needs that should be met to ensure the success of the gamification project in question? Gamification alone does not guarantee patron engagement or student learning. A clear goal, careful planning, and skillful execution are necessary for the success of a gamification project.


1. The New Media Consortium. NMC Horizon Report 2012 Higher Ed Edition. (The New Media Consortium, 2012).

2. The New Media Consortium. NMC Horizon Report 2013 Higher Education Edition. (The New Media Consortium, 2013).

3. Josh Keller. "Smartphone Game Turns College Tours, Orientations Into Scavenger Hunts." Chronicle of Higher Education. September 9, 2011.

4. Steve Tally. "Digital Badges Show Students' Skills Along with Degree," Purdue News. September 11, 2012.

5. Heong Weng Mak. "The Gamification of College Lectures at the University of Michigan," Gamification Co. February 8, 2013.

6. Peter Nonacs. "Cheating to Learn: How a UCLA Professor Gamed a Game Theory Midterm," KCRW Blog. April 22, 2013.

7. Monica Fusich et al. "HML-IQ Fresno State's Online Library Orientation Game." College & Research Libraries News. 72, no. 11 (December 1, 2011): 626-630.

8. Andrew Walsh. "Gamifying the University Library." (Presented at the Online Information Conference 2011, London, 2011).

9. Anne Burke, Adrienne Lai, and Adam Rogers. "The North Carolina State University Libraries' Mobile Scavenger Hunt: A Case Study" in Mobile Library Services: Best Practices. (Scarecrow Press, 2013), 70.

10. Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco. "If You Build It ...? One Campus' Firsthand Account of Gamification in the Academic Library." College & Research Libraries News. 74, no. 4 (April 1, 2013): 208-210.

Learn More About Gamification

Recommended Reading

Daly, Jimmy. "Where Does Gamification Fit in Higher Education? [#Infographic]." EdTech Magazine. November 30, 2012.

Kim, Bohyun. "Harnessing the Power of Game Dynamics Why, How to, and How Not to Gamify the Library Experience." College & Research Libraries News. 73, no. 8 (September 1, 2012): 465-469.

Nicholson, Scott. "Using Gamification to Enhance the Library Experience." ITI Books Blog. December 20, 2012.

Pagowsky, Nicole. "Taking a Trek with SCVNGR: Developing Asynchronous, Mobile Orientations and Instruction for Campus." ACRL TechConnect Blog. May 13, 2013.

Sinha, Shantanu. "Motivating Students and the Gamification of Learning." Huffington Post. February 14, 2012.

Spina, Carli. "Gamification: Is It Right for Your Library?" AALL Spectrum. 17, no. 6 (April 2013): 7-10.

Additional Resources

"About Mozilla Open Badges." Mozilla Open Badges. Accessed May 5, 2013.

"Library Game Examples." ALA Game Making Interest Group Wiki. Accessed May 5, 2013.

Rice, Scott. "Library Games." Library Guides at Appalachian State University. Accessed May 5, 2013.