Gamification Vs. Gamer Types: Bartle’s Taxonomy Revisited
How To Gamify Your Course
At one of the conferences I attended, I heard a very interesting opinion: that gamification mechanisms can be found in our daily lives. In the end, we all like to collect things, receive rewards, discover new things, and, more or less consciously, compete against others. If it’s a part of our daily lives, then it should also become a part of our learning, and it has been for a while now. Educators incorporate elements of games in different levels of instruction: on single training materials sets or classes, on subjects, or in full curricula. Institutions invest in Learning Management System (LMS) solutions. Often adding gamification mechanisms converts to higher learner engagement and motivation. The most commonly used gamification mechanisms are:
- Ranking tables
- Progress bars
and, slightly less frequently, but notably enough:
But sometimes they just don’t seem to work. There are many areas that may influence the success rate of gamification, but, as gamification mechanisms come from games, I’d like to concentrate on the construction of gamification systems in relation to gamer typology from Bartle’s taxonomy.
Bartle’s Taxonomy: Gamer Types
Bartle’s taxonomy is the first, and thus the oldest research, on computer game players. It has been expanded and updated over the years, moving from a strict classification to a more flexible typology, and adding subtypes of players. At its core, Bartle’s taxonomy distinguishes four basic types of players: killers, achievers, explorers and socializers. Let’s have a look at each of them:
They want to win and take the first place. More than that, they play not just to win, but to defeat others. A win by a single point won’t prove satisfactory to them; they want a crushing advantage. They are motivated by change and chaos, and need adrenaline.
They play to gain points, higher levels, and equipment. They are interested in measurable achievements, even if the achievements are purely cosmetic, like a piece of equipment in a rare color. They are motivated by prizes, and aim at mastery.
They enjoy discovering new and hidden areas. They imagine living in the game, being a part of it. They will be equally happy to discover surprises and bugs, which makes them great testers. As such diligent exploration requires time, explorers resent any time limitations. They are motivated by both the exploration possibilities and by helping others.
Socializers play to interact with others. They want to meet and cooperate with other players, with games being just an excuse to do that. Surprisingly, though, they can be equally happy interacting with Artificial Intelligence (AI) controlling a persona under the condition that the simulation is convincing enough. They are motivated by bonds and cooperation.
Analyzing Bartle’s taxonomy we can draw the conclusion that each type of gamer will answer enthusiastically to a different gamification mechanisms set, which will look as follows:
Will respond to badges, points, ranking tables, progress bars (especially if presented in comparison to other players) and challenges.
Will respond to badges, points, progress bars, and challenges (especially if they can win unique prizes)
Will respond to a progress bar (especially when illustrated as a map with undiscovered regions), and storytelling (which will help them engage in the game even more deeply)
Will respond to… none of the above.
Apparently, the most commonly used gamification mechanisms are most attractive to killers, and least interesting to socializers. If this conclusion doesn’t yet appear disturbing, let me present rough data on how common each gamer type is:
- Killers ~ 1%
- Achievers ~ 10%
- Explorers ~ 10%
- Socializers ~ 80%
These statistics presented above lead to the conclusion that the most commonly used gamification mechanics cater for needs of a maximum of 21% of learners.
These numbers are shocking, but they are not a reason to throw out all the training materials, learning curricula, and LMS solutions. Not before we consider the limitations of Bartle’s taxonomy, at least. First of all, as research was extended, the classification became more of a typology, allowing a person to incorporate traits of different gamer personas. Still, there is always a dominant type. Second, the research was conducted among multiplayer online games players. This game genre requires constant interaction and cooperation with others, so we could argue that the research sample was biased.
Whether the research was methodologically correct or not, the juxtaposition of gamers and most common gamification mechanisms is thought provoking. It does provide a couple of conclusions worth implementing in any and every the educational process:
You can’t go wrong with offering a wide range of gamification mechanisms and allowing learners to choose the most appealing ones.
- Encourage collaboration
This is what we already know, and are slowly but surely striding toward: social learning.
- Don’t give up
There are many factors influencing educational processes, none of them decisive. You may have amazing engagement in class while only using badges, simply because you’re a great teacher or because learners find the subject interesting or relevant.
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