Understanding the difference between Gamification, Simulations and Serious Games

It’s no secret I’m not a fan of the term ‘Gamification’. To me it feels cheap and lessens the value of the positive outcomes that the concept itself can create when used for good. This probably isn’t helped by the fact my spellchecker constantly offers to change every utterance I make of the word to ‘ramification’… (and a few of those have unfortunately slipped through the net on Twitter).


Despite my misgivings, the term is hot and it’s everywhere. But there’s a fundamental misunderstanding around what it actually means. Few people realize that there is a difference between ‘Gamification’, ‘Simulations’ and ‘Serious Games’, and I wanted to take this opportunity to clarify those differences.
Gamification is all about applying game elements (the ‘DNA’ of games) to non-game activities. It’s about making ‘normal’, day-to-day activities more compelling. Gamification leverages ‘game mechanics’ such as points, levels, badges and achievements to create engagement and interest. Gamification is starting to be taken seriously across our industry and vendors are sitting up to take notice. ServiceNow have some interesting case studies around the positive outcomes achieved from incorporating gamification alongside their tool… and InvGate have recently launched gamification features to add value to their service desk software.
Simulations are real and immersive games which offer an experiential educational experience. Simulations place people in a risk free environment which supports their engagement in an authentic experience which contextually demonstrates benefits and consequences.  Examples of where simulations can be used within the ITSM industry include:

  • To add value (and bring context to) traditional training, such as ITIL Foundation
  • To gain executive buy-in around ITIL/ITSM initiatives
  • To create shared understanding/commitment around ITSM based change initiatives – helping to drive transformation & cultural change
  • By tools and services vendors to help position their tools and offerings in context
Serious games use traditional gamecraft techniques (for example video game technology, Kinect, strategy) around serious concepts such as business, education, environmental or social issues. These can be used to ‘bring to life’ powerful stories around IT concepts such as cloud, virtualization, ITIL and more, for the purposes of awareness, education and marketing. Some advocates of serious games, for example Jane McGonigal, believes games such as these can ‘change the world’. 
So, in a nutshell, those are the key differences between Gamification, Simulation and Serious Games. Each has underlying elements of game theory, but is fundamentally different. Whether or not games will change the world remains to be seen, but ones thing’s for sure…games in any form are a powerful tool in the engagement toolbox for ITSM that cannot be ignored.
For more information about Gamification” www.eFOURlearning.com
Originally published by Linda King in G3 G3



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