George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The breakthrough happened after the student took the Bartle's Gamer Profile Quiz and we found out that he was a "killer." Off-the-charts killer, but achievement meant nothing to this student. Just like grades.

No, we haven't identified the next school shooter, and I sure wish that Bartle hadn't named one of the four gamer profiles "killer" -- but nonetheless, this student identified with this profile. Jane McGonigal mentioned it in her Gaming Can Make a Better World TED Talk when she discussed an epic meaning. My so-called "killer" student (and we really should rename this when applying it to education!) simply saw things as a battle between good and evil and wanted to fight on the side of good in an epic quest to make the world a better place. Points don't matter in gameplay, and grades don't matter, either. But when we tweaked the kinds of work he was doing in our Gamifi-ED project to focus on "world-changing games," he was suddenly engaged. Now his face lights up when he sees me. He's one of the first kids to class. He's an engaged gamer and, finally, an engaged student.

My ninth grade students have partnered on an epic quest with grad students at the University of Alaska Southeast and members of the Gamifi-ED OOC to study serious games, create an encyclopedia of serious games, and ultimately to create their own serious game in Minecraft. This adventure merits a post of its own, but for now, let's go through the essential elements that we should consider as gaming and education come together.

1. Game Mechanics

Game mechanics are part of game theory. The problem with most attempts at gaming in education is that educators mistakenly think that if you give out a badge or slap points on it, you've gamified. This is wrong. Game theorists have uncovered 24 ways for truly motivating gamers to participate and engage. If you're going to engage your students using any form of gaming, you should understand game mechanics.

2. Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology

As we saw with my "killer" student, there are four game-player types using this psychological evaluation. You can take the quiz to determine which type you are. Realize that you should consider all four of the player types as you design your experiences.

3. Gamification is a Process

Sixth grade teacher Michael Matera wowed me and other members of the OOC as he shared how he has completely gamified his sixth grade classroom. (See the video from his Google Hangout below.) He also delineates the difference between grading and gamifying, as privacy requires that you not publicly share grades. The other important element I've adopted is that badges should be printed out and handed to students (they love putting them on the front of their notebooks, he says). He also shares how much it motivates a love for learning. I'm reminded of the SAMR model of technology integration in that the final step is redefinition -- what happens when you truly gamify a classroom. To risk sounding cliché, gamifying the classroom is a game changer in every way.

4. Serious Games Can Be Used Anywhere

During the Gamifi-ED OOC, I was astounded to see higher ed, elementary ed, and everyone in between share countless ways that gaming can enrich the classroom. From donated Xbox, PS3 and Wii systems to games from various app stores, there are so many ways to enrich learning with the right game.

5. Serious Games Can Tackle Serious Issues

As my students compile our encyclopedia with the higher ed teachers, we're finding game experiences that tackle serious issues, such as depression, genocide in Darfur and the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East, with respect and learning.

6. We Can't Trust App Stores to Curate Our Games

Education app stores are a virtual Wild West of unclaimed, unverified games and apps. Using a rubric developed by the higher ed students, we've already tested more than 20 games (and have another 60 in process) with students and educators ranking them by research-based education best practices. The highest any game can score on our scale is 30. Thus far, we've found only two games that have broken 20, and only one math game -- Cockroaches vs. Algebra -- has gotten close, scoring 19.

Endgame: Finding a "Killer" Tool

Social media and word of mouth recommendations have taken us this far, but it's time for some serious testing of serious games to determine which ones are appropriate for classroom use. Instead of relying on unknown algorithms to determine the best learning games, the education world needs a vetting process that will take us beyond non-teaching game company employees who currently determine what's hot and what's not. Gamifi-ED is definitely a step in the right direction, and if you or your student testers want to join, just contact us.

Gaming in education is already full of experts. Minecraft, World of Warcraft and even a new site called Growtopia are all places where we can share, grow and learn. It's time to move forward into best practices, curation methodologies that will truly help us apply education theory to gaming, and an understanding of gaming that will help us apply gaming theory to education. I'm excited about gaming as a powerful "killer" tool in a 21st century teacher's toolkit. Let's take what we're doing farther.

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Elizabeth's picture

I have recently started the very long but equally exciting process of gamifying my classroom. I am so inspired Michael Matera and others who have gamified their whole class. Unknowingly, I have been using several elements of game design in my class for several years, but taking this step towards full gamification has completely transformed my class. Here is a blog post post I wrote about grades vs. experience points.

Douglas Kiang's picture
Douglas Kiang
Speaker, presenter, teacher, gamer, dad

Wonderful article, Vicki, and you raise some excellent points about gamification in the classroom. When I talk about my use of the Bartle Test in my own classroom, I have taken to calling them "Griefers" rather than "Killers" since that is more accurate to their gameplay style. In addition to being objectionable in a school context, the term "Killer" is misleading because in some games like Call of Duty, killing other players in the game is simply a way of scoring points. Just because a player has the highest kill ratio doesn't mean he is a "Killer" (he is most likely an Achiever.) It's the players who camp out near spawn points and prey on newbies who are exhibiting the "Griefer" play style.

David Orloff Sgc's picture

Play to Cure(tm). Beat cancer sooner.

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Generate real scientific data.

Suggest games and find more at

Teacher, scientist, game developer and player reviewers are needed at

The Science Game Center is the place where teachers, scientists, game developers and players can review games that teach science. The SGC game of the week for 4/28/14 is Play to Cure: Genes in Space by Cancer Research UK, Dundee agency, Guerrilla Tea. At the Science Game Center you will find the link to visit the Play to Cure: Genes in Space by Cancer Research UK, Dundee agency, Guerrilla Tea website. You can play Play to Cure: Genes in Space by Cancer Research UK, Dundee agency, Guerrilla Tea for free on your mobile device. NOTE: This application is designed for iPhone 4S and higher, along with iPad 2 and higher. You can play on older devices, but your gaming experience may not be the same.

Come back to the Science Game Center and let us know what you thought.

Do you wish your teacher had better science games? Do you wonder what games will engage your students?

The Science Game Center will help you see which games resonate with players of various ages.

You may see how other teachers have used Play to Cure: Genes in Space by Cancer Research UK, Dundee agency, Guerrilla Tea in their classrooms.

Are you a scientist? See what Play to Cure: Genes in Space by Cancer Research UK, Dundee agency, Guerrilla Tea is all about and then tell us what impressed you about it.

Virtualmeds's picture

Great points about Gamification. Hadn't heard about the Bartle Test before this, so thanks for sharing. As a recent high school graduate and current university student, I for one would benefit a great deal from some of my classes being gamified.

I'm running a campaign for university to try and change perceptions around gaming as a hobby and as a means of education or motivation even in the workplace (through gamification). Would love you to check it out and give us some insight! Thanks

Karl Kapp's picture


Great article and good information. I think excellent teachers already incorporate many gamification concepts and ideas into their instruction.

Here are some other resources that might be helpful.

The first is a video on YouTube that describes what is gamification in a whiteboard animation fashion.

And there is a has a course called "The Gamification of Learning and Instruction" which can help with understanding gamification concepts and ideas. (I know many educators have free subscriptions through their institution...full disclosure, I authored this course).

Also, I have written a book to help educators better understand gamification and its role in fostering learning called "The Gamification of Learning and Instruction" which provides explanations of terms, theoretical foundations and a discussion of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation with gamification.

Games and gamification can be powerful tools for learning when applied properly.

MattsonConsult's picture

It is important to understand the way children who play games think about games. Such thought patterns to anyone considering working with children should provide a platform for either how to construct children games or what should be done to enhance those thoughts in ways to improve their in school achievements. This article is very helpful in both ways.

stanleygarland's picture

Congratulations on this article from one of your acquaintances from Georgia. I think that this is a great article and one that points out how gamification is revolutionizing the world of educational technology. I think that many teachers such as myself would love to see gamification become a standard part of public education. The advantage of gamification is that everyone, regardless of age, love to play and if you can play and learn at the same time then all the better. I have long advocated that schools allow students to play video games since it makes them love computing in general and encourages an interest in technology in general. Often, especially low income students, are hesitant to use technology because they are unfamiliar with it and are afraid to mess something up. By playing games and through gamification of the classroom, students are desensitized to the computer and technology in general and thus become at home behind the keyboard. I have been impressed by the approach taken by they are making a concerted effort to make learning apps that keep the focus of the student on the gamepla process while embedding the knowledge and information in an engaging way.

voltaire's picture

A number of years back I had a brain bleed (my sec9nd) and needed surgery. this left me with neurological deficits. one main area was my speed of processing information, the best way I can describe it is that any information I wanted to retrieve from my brain would be slow as the normal path to retrieve that information was blocked so it had to find a new route.
I am also an avid aging gamer, I used games to speed up my processing and it worked very well. I can think of a few ways that gaming can be used to help education and can even inspire some students to integrate.

Sheldon S | The Knowledge Roundtable's picture
Sheldon S | The Knowledge Roundtable
Enthusiastic teacher, writer, and learner

I love the notion of bringing the virtual world into the physical by making it a point to print out the badges (or other gamification incentives) for students.

I have found with my students that gamification is at its best when students have meaningful incentives that can elicit that coveted mental state of flow - they have enough incentive and challenge to draw them towards that next dopamine rush of achievement.

When you unpack how similar the psychological basis for gamification in education is to what arcade game designers focused on in the 80s and 90s to draw out users' quarters, it becomes easier for those of us from those generations to see how and why gamification works:

Gabriel's Seeds's picture
Gabriel's Seeds
Helping teachers to create fully personalized and engaging learning apps for children.

One super simple way to gamify any learning lesson is to introduce current online games from various areas (math, physics, logic, brain teasers, reading, writing) into learning lessons. These simple online games are spread all over free gaming portals and they have valuable and amusing content. Current technology allows embedding them, teachers just have to apply them into everyday lessons.

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