The Impact of Gamification on Socio-technical Communities: A Case for Network Analysis

Figure: A Small Social Networkl Figure: A Small Social Network

Recently my colleague Timo and I wrote a paper that emphasizes the importance of two things: First of all, the importance of network and community analysis in gamification research. We claim that the impact of gamification can be seen not only at the level of the individual, but that it will impact the structure of sociotechnical communities. We propose that building hypotheses on the type of the impact and rigorously testing them will be a research agenda with potential for generating significant novel knowledge.

Secondly, we urge network analysis papers to move towards hypothesis testing instead of just presenting descriptive statistics. Wohlin et al.* summarize the importance of hypothesis testing for generating new knowledge as follows. “In science, physical phenomena are addressed by putting forward hypotheses. The phenomenon is observed and if the observations are in line with the hypothesis, this becomes evidence for the hypothesis. Experiments are important to test the hypothesis and in particular the predictive ability of the hypothesis. If the new experiments support the hypothesis, then we have more evidence in favor of the hypothesis.” If the study remains at the level of descriptive statistics, no evidence is created to support the presented new knowledge. (We acknowledge that this is a very positivist view and other philosophies of science or qualitative approaches are just as valid. However, in positivist-quantitative approaches hypothesis testing is essential.)

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An open access version of the paper is available at CEUR-WS.


Designing for motivating and engaging experiences is at the core of gamification. The results of gamification are often evaluated with user experience testing involving recordings, surveys, and interviews. However, in multi-user socio-technical environments the benefits of gamification are often realized in interactions between users. We propose that social network analysis should be used more to analyze the impact of gamification at community level. To demonstrate the approach, we present a study where a gamified computer-supported collaborative learning system was introduced to a course, and compare the course to a previous instance. Furthermore, we present several examples of how social network analysis can be used with hypothesis testing and discuss the benefits of the approach.


Knutas A., Hynninen T. (2018). The Impact of Gamification on Socio-technical Communities: A Case for Network Analysis. In Proceedings of the 2nd Workshop on Games-Human Interaction (GHITALY 2018). (Open access at CEUR-WS)


* Claes Wohlin, Per Runeson, Martin Höst, Magnus C. Ohlsson, Björn Regnell, and Anders Wesslén. 2012. Experimentation in software engineering. Springer Science & Business Media.


Sustainability Analysis of AI Technologies

Figure: System and Experiment Structure Figure 1. Sustainability analysis diagram of the artificial intelligence (AI) field according to the five dimensions of sustainability. (Khakurel et al., 2018)

I had the privilege to participate to the sustainability analysis of AI technologies with my colleagues Jayden, Birgit, and others. Recently we published a paper in the Technologies journal where we mapped the impact of AI on sustainability on five axis: Social, economical, technical, environmental, and individual.

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An open access version of the paper is available at MDPI.


Since the 1950s, artificial intelligence (AI) has been a recurring topic in research. However, this field has only recently gained significant momentum because of the advances in technology and algorithms, along with new AI techniques such as machine learning methods for structured data, modern deep learning, and natural language processing for unstructured data. Although companies are eager to join the fray of this new AI trend and take advantage of its potential benefits, it is unclear what implications AI will have on society now and in the long term. Using the five dimensions of sustainability to structure the analysis, we explore the impacts of AI on several domains. We find that there is a significant impact on all five dimensions, with positive and negative impacts, and that value, collaboration, sharing responsibilities; ethics will play a vital role in any future sustainable development of AI in society. Our exploration provides a foundation for in-depth discussions and future research collaborations.


Khakurel J, Penzenstadler B, Porras J, Knutas A, Zhang W. The Rise of Artificial Intelligence under the Lens of Sustainability. Technologies. 2018; 6(4):100. (Open access at MPDI)


Design Reflections for Gamification in Participatory Environmental Sensing

Figure: System and Experiment Structure Figure: System and Experiment Structure (Palancin-Silva et al., 2018)

Over the winter I had the privilege to participated in a pilot project initiated my colleague Palacin-Silva to investigate the impact of gamification on user engagement in environmental sensing. We used a participatory sensing approach where citizens actively participate in monitoring their environment. Participatory sensing can be said to be a type of civic technology in the sense that it empowers citizens to actively participate, instead of being passive recipients of environmental data. In this case the participants monitored the thickness of lake ice in Lappeenranta, Finland, where there was a pre-existing community. This community for example maintains their section of the Lake Wiki.

In our approach, we created two applications for monitoring lake ice thickness, one with gamification and one without to specifically evaluate the impact of gamification. The gamified application had a statistically significant effect on user effectiveness, as measured by the number of interactions and new data inputted by the user compared to the time the application was open. Both groups found the application as usable and as satisfying to use.

We published the following design reflections to consider when implementing gamification in participatory sensing:

  • support personalized notification triggers;
  • support customizable challenges to avoid negative feedback (e.g. discouragement) triggered from the lack of achievement;
  • support social interaction between users;
  • allow users to explore submitted data;
  • enhance indoor experiences;
  • support interactive feedback.

See more details about our recommendations in pg. 5 of the paper.

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The paper is available at the ACM Digital Library and a preprint is available for request at ResearchGate.

What next?

In the upcoming, more advanced approach the civic engagement and civic technology aspects are deepened. In this upcoming SENSEI Project citizens are included in the co-design and co-creation. Again, all props to my colleague for initiating and leading the project.


Participatory sensing (PS) and citizen science hold promises for a genuinely interactive and inclusive citizen engagement in meaningful and sustained collection of data about social and environmental phenomena. Yet the underlying motivations for public engagement in PS remain still unclear particularly regarding the role of gamification, for which HCI research findings are often inconclusive. This paper reports the findings of an experimental study specifically designed to further understand the effects of gamification on citizen engagement. Our study involved the development and implementation of two versions (gamified and non-gamified) of a mobile application designed to capture lake ice coverage data in the sub-arctic region. Emerging findings indicate a statistically significant effect of gamification on participants’ engagement levels in PS. The motivation, approach and results of our study are outlined and implications of the findings for future PS design are reflected.


Palacin-Silva, M. V., Knutas, A., Ferrario, M. A., Porras, J., Ikonen, J., & Chea, C. (2018). The Role of Gamification in Participatory Environmental Sensing: A Study In the Wild. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM. (ACM DL)


IoT Hobby Project with RuuviTag

Figure: Collecting data with RuuviTag and receiving it with Node-RED

Projects with small embedded devices have become a lot more easy in recent years, thanks to affordable and easy Internet of Things devices and more accessible programming environments. Just one year ago I did a small, fun project with a friend after receiving a RuuviTag from Kickstarter. We measured sauna temperatures with the intention of getting an alarm when it was hot enough to enjoy. We used a Node-RED server running on a RaspberryPI device. From there we forwarded the data to the ThingSpeak service for web-based visualization. I should note that nowadays there are more visually impressive services available as well, such as Grafana. It’s open source, too.

I have done earlier projects with devices similar to Arduino and they involving a lot of C programming and soldering cables to ordinary sensor devices. They’re still available and more reliable in some sense, but for some purposes devices like RuuviTag just make everything so pain-free. You don’t always feel like wiring your apartment with new cabling and struggling with C code. Also, the visualization platforms available nowadays are just impressive.

Publication trends in gamification: A systematic mapping study

Figure: Topic modeling -based analysis of current application areas in gamification Figure: Topic modeling -based analysis of current application areas in gamification

Gamification, or the application of game elements in non-game environments, is nowadays an increasingly popular field of research. The number of yearly publications on the topic has grown overwhelmingly. In this paper, we mapped the publication trends in gamification, and analyzed which in which fields the application of gamification is most popular. Health, play, education, crowdsourcing, and software development were identified as the most trending topics.

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The paper is available at ScienceDirect. Alternatively, you can request a preprint at ResearchGate.


The term gamification and gamified systems are a trending area of research. However, gamification can indicate several different things, such as applying the game-like elements into the design of the user interface of a software, but not all gamification is necessarily associated with software products. Overall, it is unclear what different aspects are studied under the umbrella of ‘gamification’, and what is the current state of the art in the gamification research. In this paper, 1164 gamification studies are analyzed and classified based on their focus areas and the research topics to establish what the research trends in gamification are. Based on the results, e-learning and proof-of-concept studies in the ecological lifestyle and sustainability, assisting computer science studies and improving motivation are the trendiest areas of gamification research. Currently, the most common types of research are the proof-of-concept studies, and theoretical works on the different concepts and elements of gamification.


Kasurinen, J., Knutas, A. (2018). Publication trends in gamification: A systematic mapping study. Computer Science Review, 27, 33-44. DOI: 10.1016/j.cosrev.2017.10.003