Competition & Cooperation in Gamification

Some thoughts on competition and cooperation for learning within the context of gamification. For more information on content and structural gamification, click HERE.


Competition is often associated with structural gamification. Competition is when students are “constrained from impeding each other and instead devote the entirety of their attentions to optimizing their own performance.” (Crawford, 2003). In structural gamification, this is manifest by students accumulating points and appearing on a leaderboard. Competition can be used if the students are initially reluctant to learn content, they have a good social relationship with each other or if the students are initially hesitant to engage with the content.

To be most effective, the competitive environment created with structural gamification needs to have the follow elements.

  • Prizes for winners should be of little importance or even symbolic help ensure that the student efforts are intrinsic and not driven by the expected outcome (Cantador & Conde, 2010).
  • The number of students directly competing against one another should be kept to a minimum. Increasing the number of competitors can decrease student motivation (Garcia & Tor, 2009). In larger classrooms, this can be done by breaking students into smaller competitive teams.
  • Competition has to be long enough to avoid learner demotivation because of bad initial results, and to assure that all participants have a good chance of winning until the end of the activity (Cantador & Conde, 2010).
  • The goal of the competition must be clearly set into the process instead of into the results, making it clear that finally winning or losing is very low in importance in comparison to learning and improving while competing (Cantador & Conde, 2010).


Cooperation is the act of working with others to achieve a mutually desirable and beneficial outcome. Primarily used in content gamification, working together to overcome a challenge or solve a mystery is a method of adding game elements to instruction. This is the social aspect of gamification that many students enjoy. The more individuals work together, the more they are able to achieve. It has been found that serious games are more effective when played in groups for learning. Therefore, one can suppose that with gamification, group cooperation would be more effective than solo gamification but more research is needed on this specific aspect (Wouters et. al., 2013)

Cooperation is a viable option for engagement when working with groups of students and if working together to achieve a goal is desirable. It is also helpful when students are able to learn content from peers and the subject matter is enriched through discussion and working together.

In gamification employing characters or roles, sometimes two or more students who are assigned different roles team together to overcome an obstacle or accomplish a goal while working as their assigned character or within their role. Working together and achieving a goal is the winning state of cooperative gamification.

To Learn more about gamification, check out these books:


Cantador, I. & Conde, J.M. (July 2010) Effects of Competition in Education: A Case Study in an E-Learning Environment. Proceedings of the IADIS International Conference e-Learning 2010 (E-Learning 2010). Freiburg, Germany, July 2010.

Crawford, C. (2003) Chris Crawford on game design. New Riders Publishing: Indianapolis, IN. pp. 8

Garcia, S. M. & Tor, A. (2009) The N-Effect more competitors, less competition. Psychological Science. Volume 20, No. 7. 871-877.

Wouters, P., van Nimwegen, C., van Oostendorp, H., & van der Spek, E. D. (2013, February 4). A Meta-Analysis of the Cognitive and Motivational Effects of Serious Games. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advanced online publication. Doi: 10.1037/a0031311.

Posted in: Games, Gamification

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Karl Kapp
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