Reimagining Gamification through the Lens of Activity Theory

Gamification is maturing as an academic research object, but still suffers from growing pains. Challenges identified in a practical gamification activity are used to anchor a discussion of theoretical challenges currently facing gamification. We argue that some of the pain can be attributed to the exceptionalist and formalist definitions of game, and believe that these interpretations assume a dualistic ontological perspective of the world, resulting in problematic dichotomies. An alternative dialectical perspective from which to reimagine gamification and address some of the challenges is offered. This perspective is concretized through the lens of activity theory. The value of applying activity theory is illustrated by reflecting back on the practical and theoretical challenges identified. Reimagining gamification has the potential to afford participants with greater opportunities for action, and also to drive transformation of existing practices and thus enable agency. It is captured by considering it as an expansive cycle of activity.