school game

Game Elements

This section aims to provide an overview and classification of game mechanics such as PBLs and more complex game elements which might further enhance engagement, the potential goal of gamification.

Classification of Game Elements

The Level Model

Deterding et al. (2011a, p. 12) point out that game elements are in fact not game-specific, as they might also be found in non-game environments. Consequently, they are merely “characteristic to games”, and thus games can only be defined by their elements in an affording manner. The authors also note that the differentiation between full-blown games and gamified applications is subjective and thus leaves much room for debate. Studying the available literature, Deterding et al. found that previously identified game elements fell into five levels of abstraction. Adapted from Deterding et al. (2011a, p. 12), Table 1 lists the five levels of game elements, ordered by abstraction.




Game interface design patterns

Common, successful interaction design components and design solutions for a known problem in a context, including prototypical implementations

Badge, leaderboard, level

Game design patterns and mechanics

Commonly reoccurring parts of the design of a game that concern gameplay

Time constraint, limited resources, turns

Game design principles and heuristics

Evaluative guidelines to approach a design problem or analyze a given design solution

Enduring play, clear goals, variety of game styles

Game models

Conceptual models of the components of games or game experience

MDA; challenge, fantasy, curiosity; game design atoms; CEGE

Game design methods

Game design-specific practices and processes

Playtesting, playcentric design, value conscious game design

Table 1. “Levels of Game Design Elements”

The MDA Framework

Zichermann and Cunningham (2011) base their description of game elements on the MDA framework, which in Deterding et al.’s (2011a) level model is categorised as a game model. The MDA framework, named after its three components - mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics – attempts to describe how game production and consumption are interrelated. The game artefact necessarily evokes emotional responses from the player. These are called aesthetics. On the other end, the game designer builds up their game from mechanics, such as PBLs. During gameplay, these mechanics produce some sort of output based on how players interact with the game and with each other, which output is called dynamics. The player can infer about the mechanics, i.e. the rules of the game, based on these dynamics (Hunicke, LeBlanc, & Zubek, 2004).

The Pyramid of Game Elements

Werbach and Hunter (2012, p. 81) argue that “game elements exist in a hierarchy” as illustrated in figure 2. The authors identify the following categories game elements fall into: dynamics, mechanics and components. These terms are not equivalent with those in the MDA framework.

Figure 2. The Pyramid of Game Elements adapted from Werbach & Hunter (2012, p. 82)

In a later book (2015), Werbach and Hunter suggest that one should start building their gamification system from top to bottom, starting with the highest-level design patterns, that is, dynamics. The five dynamics they list are constraints, emotions, narrative, progression and relationships. Dynamics serve to “provide motivations” (para 7.14), and manifest themselves through mechanics. Being the “verbs of the game” (para 9.2), game mechanics are responsible for driving player involvement through challenges, chance, competition, cooperation, feedback, resource acquisition, rewards, transactions, turns and win states. Mechanics are manifested in components, in other words, the “game’s nouns” (para 10.1). Examples for components include achievements, avatars, badges, boss fights, collections, combat, content unlocking, gifting, leaderboards, levels, points, quests, social graph, teams and virtual goods. The components also employed in my research will be discussed in the following chapter.

Game Elements

The PBL Triad

Werbach and Hunter (2012) analysed more than 100 gamification implementations and found that a considerable percentage of those involved points, badges and leaderboards (PBL).


Points, as Werbach and Hunter (2012) suggest, may serve several purposes in a gamified system. Besides providing constant feedback to the player and data to the designer, they indicate progression, determine win states and encourage competition. Moreover, rewards and reaching levels may also be tied to a certain amount of points.

Zichermann and Cunningham (2011) distinguish five types of point systems, namely, experience points, redeemable points, skill points, karma points and reputation points. Experience points (XP) in a gamified system are used to “align … behavioral objectives with the player in a long-term way” (p. 39), since players receive XP for desirable actions. XP does not have a maximum boundary, it cannot be lost nor redeemed, it never functions as a currency, and in most cases it forms the basis of player ranking.

Redeemable points (RP), such as coins, differ from XP in their tendency to fluctuate. As RP can be exchanged for items, it is what the whole virtual economy of the game or gamified system depends on. Skill points are used to reward more specific activities and also indicate how well the user is performing certain tasks.

Karma points exist to be given away by users. Assigners of karma points thank the person who helped them in a situation, thus karma points encourage altruistic, social behaviour.

Finally, reputation points serve “as a proxy for trust” (p. 40) for the cases when users are likely to try gaming the system, e.g. by producing fake negative reviews for their competitors.


As Werbach and Hunter (2012, p. 74) define it, “a badge is a visual representation of some achievement”, which as Kapp, Blair and Mesch (2014) add, can also take the form of ribbons or trophies. Both points and badges target the innate drive for collecting things, although badges might also be aesthetically rewarding (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011). Antin and Churchill (2011) identify five motivational characteristics of badges from a social psychological perspective. Badges (1) set goals in front of users, (2) show them “what types of activity are possible” (p. 2), (3) aids the assessment of reputation, (4) act as status symbols, and (5) and calls for the group identification among those who share the same experiences.

Werbach and Hunter (2012) observed a tendency for enhanced badge use in online educational platforms, while Kapp, Blair and Mesch (2014) assert that badges are ideal for rewarding non-linear learner progress.


Leaderboards or scoreboards display the achievements of players in a descending order, which in many cases motivates players to move up the ladder, but which in other cases acts as a demotivator (Werbach & Hunter, 2012; Zichermann & Linder, 2013). As Werbach and Hunter (2012) suggest, a game designer might apply several leaderboards tracking different types of points or achievements, or they might also design one leaderboard to measure multiple scores. Zichermann and Cunningham (2011) differentiate between infinite leaderboards and no-disincentive leaderboards, which place the player in the middle and display only a few other players below and above them. Zichermann and Linder (2013) observed an increasing tendency for games to use Facebook’s social graph and show players’ scores in relation to their friends’ scores.


Levels, being “defined steps in player progression” (Werbach & Hunter, 2015, para 10.31), contain at least one challenge (Becker, 2009). Subsequent levels usually grow in complexity (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011) and feature new opponents, but also unlock new items or abilities (Becker, 2009).

Challenges / Quests

Werbach & Hunter (2015, para 10.37) define quests as “concrete examples of challenges that are defined ahead of time for players”, challenges being mechanics, i.e. higher-level elements. Quests frequently add to the narrative, and hold the promise of bringing rewards. Zichermann and Cunningham (2011, p. 64) argue that since challenges “add depth and meaning for the player”, gamification designers should supply new ones on a regular basis.


Avatars are graphics which represent and unequivocally identify a player’s character (Werbach & Hunter, 2015). In games, players are usually presented with the choice to select an appearance for themselves. Avatars have been found to be capable of changing real-life perceptions, especially if they resemble the player (Kapp, 2012).


Combats are short-lived battles or duels, which involve and clear win states (see 2.1.1 and 2.4.3) and the mechanics of competition (Werbach & Hunter, 2012; Werbach & Hunter, 2015).

In this subchapter I reviewed 7 significant game elements. More elaborate lists can be found in Werbach and Hunter (2015) and Zichermann and Cunningham (2011).


  • Antin, J., & Churchill, E. F. (2011). Badges in social media: A social psychological perspective. In CHI 2011 Gamification Workshop Proceedings (Vancouver, BC, Canada, 2011). Retrieved from http://gamification-research.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/03-Antin-Churchill.pdf
  • Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. (2011a). From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining “Gamification”. In A. Lugmayr, H. Franssila, C. Safran, & I. Hammouda (Eds.), Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments (pp. 9-15). New York, NY, USA: ACM. Retrieved from http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2181037.2181040
  • Hunicke, R., LeBlanc, M., & Zubek, R. (2004). MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research. In Proceedings of the AAAI Workshop on Challenges in Game AI (Vol. 4). Retrieved from http://www.aaai.org/Papers/Workshops/2004/WS-04-04/WS04-04-001.pdf
  • Kapp, K. M., Blair, L., & Mesh, R. (2014). The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook: Ideas into Practice. San Francisco, CA: Wiley.
  • Werbach, K., & Hunter, D. (2012). For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business. Philadelphia: Wharton Digital Press.
  • Werbach, K., & Hunter, D. (2015). The Gamification Toolkit: Dynamics, Mechanics, and Components for the Win [calibre Reader version]. Retrieved from https://ganxy.com/i/101040/kevin-werbach-and-dan-hunter/the-gamification-ebook-bundle/the-gamification-toolkit-dynamics-mechanics-and-components-for-the-win
  • Zichermann, G., & Cunningham, C. (2011). Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps. Sebastopol: O’Reilly Media.
  • Zichermann, G., & Linder, J. (2013). The Gamification Revolution: How Leaders Leverage Game Mechanics to Crush the Competition. McGraw-Hill.

Referencing this article (APA)

Németh, T. (2015). English Knight: Gamifying the EFL Classroom (Unpublished master’s thesis). Pázmány Péter Katolikus Egyetem Bölcsészet- és Társadalomtudományi Kar, Piliscsaba, Hungary. Retrieved from http://ludus.hu/gamification/