Why is gamification called gamification? Wikipedia defines gamification as ‘the use of game-thinking and game mechanics’ in non game contexts and mentions ‘providing rewards for players for accomplishing desired tasks’ as a ‘common gamification strategy’. Types of rewards include ‘points, achievement badges or levels and/or providing the user with virtual currency’.
Although these elements are useful elements for game designers they are not per se ‘game elements’. You can find these elements in games, but also outside games. Customer loyalty systems for example, have been using these elements for ages. So does the military (or the boy-scouts).
The point I try to make here is that the introduction of rewards, points and badges doesn’t doesn’t turn ‘things’ into games. Gamification advocates often say: “we don’t make games, we use game thinking”. Introducing a leaderboard is not ‘game thinking’. It doesn’t provide meaningful play by itself. People can play with virtually anything: with money, big orange- or small yellow balls, with lines, sand, bikes or fire. The introduction of these elements doesn’t gamify an experience.
I am a big advocate of using game design thinking and applying game design principles in order to create meaningful interaction between people (and systems). Without consulting game designers ‘game elements’ are just ‘elements’.