Gamification in Intercultural Learning


By Jacek Siadkowski and Dominika Zimecka, Gerere

The goal of SPIL is to motivate people to learn intercultural competences. This can be done via arts based methods but also through implementing gamification. This chapter will give insight into the theory behind gamification.

1. What is gamification?
Gamification is the application of game elements and game design techniques to non-game problems, such as social impact challenges (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play)[1]

Well-designed games feature techniques that encourage people to return to the game repeatedly or spend long hours playing the game, sometimes even enticing players to complete absurd activities. Regardless of whether a player
1.       develops a farm in a computer game,
2.       buys hotels to place on the game board,
3.       plays chess, or
4.       simply plays hopscotch, 

games make an abstract activity attractive enough to keep the attention of the players.

In the context of education and training, gamification is a method that uses game mechanics to encourage learners to complete activities they usually would not do or to complete the activities in a different way. Gamification enhances activities that are not attractive into ones that are by using game elements in non-game contexts to motivate people to perform specific activities. To gamify an activity, several criteria must be met.

 Table 1: Gamification key criteria
Activities must have a goal: e.g. increase sales or convince drivers to reduce their speed

Emotions: Activities must be fun or performing the activities must provide a sense of satisfaction

Game mechanics: Activities must include elements such as rewards, providing feedback, competition, or elements of surprise

Real life factor: Activities must refer to real life activities that are not normally related to games

Motivation: Activities should increase people’s motivation to perform them.

“Gamification resembles theatre, because it encourages certain patterns of behaviour, and it enables the participants to assume new roles – often better roles than in the real world – and it helps them become a better version of themselves.” - Iwona Mirosław-Dolecka, co-creator of the project at DK Kadr.

2. Gamification design in 6 steps
Studies show that the success of gamification depends on the game’s response to the motivational and emotional needs of the target group[2]. Game designers need to understand the context in which players function to build an engagement loop. To maximise the chances of success, gamification methods should be based on research and the implementation process should be tested. Proper research will inform how to develop a coherent strategy and design concepts while conducting tests will verify whether the created gamification strategy works.

Using experience and knowledge provided by experts in the field of gamification from around the world, Werbach formulated 6 steps for designing gamifications, called the D6 Framework.

Table 2: The D6 Framework adapted for intercultural learning
Pre.  Define the problem or issue*
1.       Define (learning) objectives
2.       Delineate target behaviours (assessment goals)
3.       Describe players (and their motivations)
4.       Devise activity loops
5.       Don’t forget the fun
6.       Deploy the appropriate tools (game Mechanics and Components)

*This pre-step is developed by Gerere and is in addition to the Werbach’s D6 Framework.

Each step is described below with 3 case studies as examples and includes exercises to develop a new gamification. 

Pre-step: Define the problem or issue
Gamification is a tool that works best when the goal is to increase engagement or change people's behaviour. It works on both large systemic projects, as well as small ones, solving equally important local problems. Therefore, gamification works best when the selected problem meets the following indicators:
●      the problem is caused by low commitment and low motivation to perform a particular behaviour;
●      the organisation has the capacity to deliver on the proposed solution in relation to the scale of the problem ;
●      the problem is a real, serious issue present in society.

Consider the causes of the problem: internal causes usual relate to people’s motivations or habits and external causes usually are imposed or created by their surroundings.

 Table 3: Define the problem: 3 Polish case studies


Steps 1 & 2: Define (learning) objectives and delineate target behaviours (assessment goals)
After defining the problem, analyse the desired outcome or the project. Consider the following questions:

  • What should people do to achieve the goal?

  • What factors contribute to the desired attitude?

  • What should the target group be encouraged to do?

Well-defined behaviours are

  • Specific and concern real-life activities that – when performed – can solve the problem,

  • Measurable, e.g. using self-declaration or external monitoring to confirm completion of the desired behaviour

  • Quantified, e.g. how many times the desired behaviour should be performed to achieve the goal. The amount can be expressed in specific numbers (brush teeth twice daily), frequency (visit dentist twice annually), percentages, etc.

Table 4. Define (learning) objectives and delineate target behaviours: 3 case studies

1 Youth at risk should:
- Create a habit of turning off the lights when not in use;
- Economise on electricity consumption;
- Learn about cultures that do not have access to electricity and/or water.

2 Prisoners should:
- Develop a habit of spending free time in a constructive, socially acceptable way;
- Develop the ability to manage free time in a constructive, socially acceptable way;
- Convert the cult of physical strength into the cult of mental strength;
- Demonstrate awareness of the value of self-development, culturally and scientifically.

3 Former prisoners should:
- Undertake activities aimed at organising life outside prison;
- Utilise a mentor to help re-enter the free world, then
- Develop independence in day to day activities (e.g., registering as unemployed person, renting an apartment, getting a personal ID, finding a job).

Step 3: Describe the players (and their motivations)
Gather as much information about the target group as possible: the more information reviewed, the better the gamification design will be. Use data from reports, personal observations, and informal interviews with representatives from the target group.  Relevant and important information could include:
- demographic data;
- information on their style and lifestyle;
- information about where and how they move;
- data on their interests and passions;
- life goals and values.

A good tool to describe the target group is creating a persona. The persona is a character model that is a typical representative of the target group. The persona meets all the assumptions of the target group and is a tangible example of a particular person who will use the gamification.

The purpose of creating a persona should always be to describe the fictional person as precisely as possible, with a particular emphasis on what motivates the person. Motivation is the most important component of the analysis used to design gamification that responds to the needs and emotions of the recipients.

Table 5: Creating a persona
1.      First name, surname, age
2.      Social status, city/town
3.      Who is the player?
4.      What is the player’s attitude towards the problem?
5.      What motivates the player?
6.      What circumstances will the player be around?

Finally, in game theory, the Bartle’s Taxonomy of player types is the most common classification system to determine the motivations of a person to play a game[3]. The taxonomy is based on a character theory on people’s personality when playing games. The X axis represents the preference for interacting with other players versus interacting with the game world. The Y axis represents a preference interacting with something versus acting on something. Understanding a person’s motivation for playing the game can definitely inform game design.

Figure 1. Bartle’s taxonomy of player types


Table 6: Creating a persona: 3 case studies

1. Youth at risk

What does the player think?
Fuck all this shit. I don’t like coercion. What is my takeaway?

Who is the player?
I'm 16 years old. I’m in the 1st grade of middle school. I hardly know my father - he drinks. Mother is out on the streets. My grandmother takes care of me, but she’s finding it hard. I have a brother (17 years old). I’m innocent, of course. I like smoking. I don’t like school. I don’t like conflicts and the police.

What is the player’s attitude towards the problem?
I'm under compulsion, although sometimes it's ok. They don’t beat me here, my father beat me when he was drunk. I have to go to school here, they make me do my homework. Educators control us, take away the possibility of deciding about ourselves. I have to behave so that there are no issues. I don’t have friends. Saving or economising is not my business, the director pays for it, it's not my money.

2. Prisoners

What does the player think?
I’m not guilty! I’m here by mistake!

Who is the player?
He feels lost. He did not want to do anything bad. He was young and stupid. Our system is sick. I have someone to live for. Everything is pretend, you have to hide your emotions here.

What is the player’s attitude towards the problem?
He does not see the problem. It seems to him that he spends his free time well but also does not see the possibility of spending time in a different way. He regards this time as lost, he sees no motivation to change. He feels he must make it alone in prison. He does not trust educators. Everyone plays PS or Xbox and it's cool.

3. Former prisoners

What does the player think?
I don’t know what to do with myself. Nobody at all cares about me.

Who is the player?
My wife left me. I’m deprived of parental rights. I did some time for stealing and robbery. I worked in my youth. Later, I resisted stealing - I was alive. It’s not worth going to work for PLN 1000. I’m homeless and I have debts for not paying my rent. My friend promised me a job, I'm going abroad.

What is the player’s attitude to the problem?
I don’t have time to learn. I need to find a job and a flat. Sometimes I drink and take drugs. I miss my children and I want to get them back. I cannot work legally due to the debt collector. The first thing I need to do is to get rid of the prison. Nobody wants to help me.

Motivational Insight
Edward Deci and Richard Ryan (2000), pioneers of the concept of internal determination theory, created the Spectrum of Motivation, explaining factors that should be considered when designing gamification[4]: External motivation is based on measurable benefits from performing activities imposed by the incentive system. Earning points in a game is a classic example of external motivation guided by the desire to score points and succeed. Internal motivation is the stronger form of motivation as people will perform activities regardless of rewards or punishment, because they desire or enjoy performing the activities. Demotivation occurs when the incentive system reduces motivation in the long-term, which happens when gamification is poorly designed.

As game designers, the goal is to create a concept that triggers internal motivation, however this is not easily accomplished. Daniel Pink (2011), author of the best-selling book on internal motivation - Drive. The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, developed a formula of the three key components of intrinsic motivation[5].

Motivation = autonomy + purpose + mastery. See figure 2.

Figure 2. Daniel Pink’s 3 intrinsic elements of motivation


According to Pink, autonomy is the desire to direct one’s own life. Autonomy includes the freedom to manage own time, to choose one’s team members, and to select tasks or challenges to perform. Mastery is the desire to continually improve and gain satisfaction from personal achievement and progress. Therefore a task should neither be too easy not too difficult. Purpose is the desire to make a difference or engage in meaningful work. Tasks should be consistent with the target group’s values.  People may become disengaged if they don’t understand the bigger picture.

In game design, use motivation theories as a guide to understand what motivates the target group. Table 7 includes universal questions informed by gamification concepts to help better understand the motivation of the target group.

 Table 7: What motivates the target group? What are their thoughts about the problem?

1.       What are their life goals?
2.       What is fun?
3.       What is interesting?
4.       Who are their friends and what do their friends think?
5.       Who or what do they respect?
6.       What do they want to learn?
7.       What matters or is important to them?

Table 8: Motivations of target group: 3 Polish case studies


Step 4. Devise activity loops

Next, the designer must consider the length of play. The rules of play can allow for short interactions or long-term play; however the longer the game is, the more advanced or developed the game world should be, otherwise the players will get bored. Be sure the activities correlate to the target behaviour.

Designing long-term commitment is aided by activity loops: how the game will continually engage the players over time and encourage mastery of the game. An engagement loop describes the process of providing feedback to the player to aid motivation. See figure X. After each action, feedback should be provided on the quality or completion of a certain behaviour. Feedback should include an incentive value based on the target group’s motivations.  See table 9 for questions on designing the feedback.

Figure 3: Engagement loop


Table 9: Questions to consider on player feedback
1.       How can feedback be given?
2.       When should feedback be given?
3.       What should the content of the feedback be?
4.       What delivery method is best to motivate the players?

The progression loop describes the player’s development towards mastery of the game long-term. According to self-motivation theory, players are motivated when they build their competences and make progress. Instead of having the players make one big move which can seem overwhelming, break the tasks into smaller steps so that it is balanced between activity and rest: a game that requires too much effort is demotivating. However, the game can be interlaced with bigger challenges also known as a boss fight (usually at the end of a level). 

Figure 4: Progression loop


Table 10: Questions to consider when designing rest periods
1. Is the game world advanced enough for long-term play?
2. How can the players receive a sense of regular progress?
3. How will the players rest in the game?

Step 5: Don’t forget the fun
An element of fun or entertainment in games needs to be designed. Depending on the players’ capabilities, ambitiousness of the set goals, and the circumstances in which players will perform the tasks, the fun can take many forms: from the simplest, causing a smile, to complex systems involving people for longer periods. Creating fun involves two factors: the players’ experiences and the atmosphere of the game.

Players' experiences
Kevin Werbach, the author of the famous book For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionise Your Business, and a lecturer for the best-known online gamification course on, proposed 14 elements of fun to increase player engagement[6]. To make uninteresting tasks interesting, select at least one option.

1.       Triumphing
2.       Sharing
3.       Customisation
4.       Chilling
5.       Goofing off
6.       Surprise
7.       Imagination
8.       Winning
9.       Problem-solving
10. Exploring
11.   Role-playing
12.    Recognition
13.   Collecting
14. Teamwork

The atmosphere of the game

Marc LeBlanc, an educator about and designer of video games, defined eight kinds of fun that can be incorporated into game design based on his theories of game MDA (Mechanics/Dynamics/Aesthetics). Visit for more information. This list is not exhaustive but can help game designers incorporate different kinds of fun into the game to attract a wider audience. The best gamifications combine different kinds of fun into a carefully designed and thoughtful story.

Table 11: 8 Kinds of Fun, a taxonomy developed by Marc Leblanc


Elements of fun should be specific enough to be described in a comic or graphic. Select elements based on what motivates the target players to change uninteresting activities into engaging ones. 

Step 6: Deploy the appropriate tools (game Mechanics and Components)
In the final step, select the appropriate Mechanics (rules of play) and Components (e.g. levels, points, quests) for the game. The game elements should be within the capabilities of the designing organisation and adapted to the persona of the target group.  The game platform could be a website, smartphone application, board, cards or objects in the learning environment. A well-designed game will work anywhere. 

Table 12: Rules of play: 3 Polish case studies

1.       Youth at risk
Youth receive stickers with fun facts when they turned off unnecessary lights at least once per week. Using only one lamp when daylight was strong earned a sticker as well. Additionally, a scoreboard kept track of savings.

2.       Prisoners
Prisoners were invited to watch 4 films to develop their mental strength: one interview with a public figure and 3 full-length movies. Following the films, they were given a reflection question. Upon completing it, the players received a puzzle piece sticker to place on their picture scorecard of a muscular bicep. As the players placed their stickers on their score cards, they were able to watch their progress and development of their “mental strength” through their muscular arm picture.

3.       Former prisoners
The former prisoners were taken on a “journey” to recover the lost talisman which symbolised freedom after prison. Guardian Angels provided tasks which led the players closer to discovering the talisman.

Final reflections
Interested in hearing the experiences of the participants and organisations involved in the 3 case studies? The following are excerpts of their reflections and evaluation of the gamification process. If interested in creating a new gamification, visit the SPIL website to download the complementary instruction materials:

Table 13: Ideas and approaches to gamification in the future: 3 Polish case studies

1.       Youth at risk
The education centre plans to repeat the already tested project to entrench the habit of turning off the light and saving water.

2.       Prisoners
Prison staff and volunteers want to continue developing the gamification. The organisation will continue the project, modifying it according to the needs and the experience gathered.

3.       Former prisoners
The cultural organisation is currently undergoing vast modernisation and plans to create a new gamification project with a target group of culture animators and volunteers.

Evaluation responses on the effectiveness of gamification: 3 Polish case studies
●      Gamification is a good tool to improve and support work done in any work environment.
●      Permanent change in the attitudes of intercultural participants requires a longer and more systematic intervention than 2-3 weeks. Gamification is a supporting tool in this process, but interpersonal relations and finding common values around the world also play a key role.
●      During the process of implementing gamification, the support from experienced designers is vital as they help avoid mistakes resulting from the common understanding of what kind of tool gamification is.
●      The construction of tools supporting a change of attitudes and strengthening motivation is a very difficult process, the effects of which are difficult to predict at the designing stage. Therefore, the key is to approach the implementation in a flexible manner involving continuous observation of the target group and improving the formula of the game operation.
●      The use of analogue materials and interfaces (like posters, booklets or paper scoreboards) does not reduce the efficiency of gamification and is justified in small scale projects or pilots.
●      The team that designs and implements gamification should consist of at least 2 people who can exchange and support ideas.

[1] Kevin Werbach, Dan Hunter, For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionise Your Business, 2013.

[2] Michael Sailera, Jan Ulrich Henseb, Sarah Katharina Mayra &Heinz Mandla. (2017). How gamification motivates: An experimental study of the effects of specific game design elements on psychological need satisfaction. Computers in Human Behavior Volume 69, April 2017, Pages 371-380 Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Empirical Education and Educational Psychology, Leopoldstr. 13, 80802, Munich, Germany.

[3] Richard Bartle. (1996). Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who suit MUDs.

[4] Richard Ryan, Edward Deci, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 2000.

[5] Daniel H. Pink Drive. Drive. The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Warszawa 2011.

[6] Kevin Werbach. Gamification. (6:40).