Curriculum PE

A Digital Video Games Approach is not ‘just’ gamification.

“Learners are novices. Leaving them to float amidst rich experiences with no guidances only triggers human beings great penchant for finding creative but spurious patterns and generalisations that send learners down the garden path.” – James Paul Gee

A Digital Video Games Approach is not ‘just’ gamification.

Both approaches try to answer the question “How do you get someone to learn something long, hard and complex, and yet enjoy it?” by using video games design as a potential source of inspiration.

What are they?

Gamification is an approach that applies certain video game design elements to a task, specifically reward elements such as points, badges, leader boards or superpowers. It can be applied to tasks in many different domains, such as work, education and health. A classic example of gamification is the running app Zombies, Run! which rewards users for their participation with supplies. The more someone runs, the more supplies they get. They can then upgrade their base with those supplies, unlocking new content, and more of the story. It can be applied to PE in many different ways such as capture the flagbadminton and even looking to help children take on more responsibility or unlocking superpowers when playing sports.

A Digital Video Games Approach (DVGA) is a games based approach that looks to apply pedagogical principles, theorised by James Paul Gee, and developed for sports by Amy Price and colleagues. Key pedagogical principles in applying this approach are missions, levels, levelling up, pausing then using the 4cs and saving the game. A DVGA, expects players during game play to: plan and replan strategy, solve and set problems for opponent and to identify what information they need to progress. This takes careful thought and consideration when designing the lessons and the game itself.

Why would you use them?

Gamification uses rewards to look to motivate and encourage participants to sustain attention and effort levels, to overcome failure and make the activity more enjoyable. Looking at gamification through a self determination theory lens it is used to facilitate motivation on the task at hand. The reward system that has been designed and used by the teacher is being used to shift participants motivation from where they are currently on the continuum below to somewhere further to the right. This is especially useful if the task being set is not inherently enjoyable, or that you need participants to practice for an extended duration. It can also make an activity which has been used a lot in the past more novel, therefore briefly increasing motivation and engagement.

A DVGA might improve participants motivation and engagement, due to its pedagogical principles, but this is a by-product and not its focus. Its main learning intention is the development of meta-cognition. Price et al (2019) explain meta-cognitive knowledge in the context of learning games as “person (declarative knowledge; knowledge of people playing in the game), task (procedural knowledge; knowledge of playing the game) and strategy (conditional knowledge; combining procedural and declarative knowledge to outwit the opponent).” This is the process of developing players to become good learners – not just good players, with a deep understanding of the game.

So which one is better?

Both are approaches that teachers and coaches could have in their tool shed, (although they require further research and application into PE and sporting contexts to justify that). Asking which one is better is the wrong question to ask ourselves. Muska Mosston’s teaching styles ‘Spectrum’ posits that each teaching style is not inherently better or more effective than than others but rather each style meet a specific set of objectives or goals. We can expand that and take a ‘non-versus’ mindset to all approaches to teaching PE or coaching sport. Therefore rather than asking which one is better, we should be asking when and where each one might be better. A helpful method to do that is using the didactic system, which is an irreducible three-way relationship linking teacher, student and the piece of knowledge to be learnt. We can’t talk about the effectiveness of an approach without taking into consideration the type of knowledge involved in the task, the context in which the task is taking place and the current capabilities of the student (and the teacher).


Gamification looks to focus on improving motivation with learning/performance as a by-product.

A digital video games approach looks to focus on improving meta-cognition with increased motivation as a by-product.

By @ImSporticus

Lecturer in PE, Sport and Physical Activity. Helping others to flourish through movement.

3 replies on “A Digital Video Games Approach is not ‘just’ gamification.”

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