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What’s the Difference Between Games and Gamification? | MindShift

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Perhaps the best way to think about games in education is not to automatically call everything that looks like fun a “learning game.” Lumping all digital game approaches together makes no more sense than a toddler’s inclination to call every four-legged animal a “doggie.”

Game interest is definitely on the upswing in K-12 and higher education. It seems almost cyclical: every several years, almost in sync with the acceptance of new technologies (such as multimedia CD-ROM, then online, then mobile), there’s a surge of activity with games in education.

But everything game-like is not a game. And while game purists may wince at this simplification, it helps to consider games in education in terms of gamification, simulation and (simply) games. The three approaches aren’t always exclusive – they’re more of a continuum, or a Venn diagram’s overlapping circles – but they are notably different.


Successful games in education have a long history, dating back to at least 1985, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego (the first learning product to receive the software industry’s CODiE award) and that decade’s Reader Rabbit and Math Blaster, to massively multiplayer, web- and mobile-based learning games of today, like World of Warcraft.

Games, like simulations, are rule-based. But more so than gamified activities and simulations, there’s usually a strong emphasis on beating the game: that is, playing and winning.

“You, as the user, are intrinsically interested in the play experience. If you are engaged at that level, all games have the potential to teach,” notes 360KID’s Traylor. “Good play equals good learning. One example of where learning games tend to go wrong is when game developers apply an A-B-A-B approach to gaming. First you start off by offering some engaging gaming content (A), then you switch to some educational content you must get through in order to return to the game (B).

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