Want to start gamifying your online course but you need a bit of inspiration?

Here are 25 fun ideas for creating a story or theme for your course.

The storyline in a gamified course works like this:

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 1.58.36 PMThe story or theme runs throughout the course, and can either be embedded into the lessons or not. The story or theme can simply be a fun way to connect all the lessons and pull the learners through the course.

Armed with this story idea, you can begin to:

I’ve included some image suggestions to help get you started. Some are free (Pixabay) where possible and others require you to purchase credits (about $1.00/image) if you want the image. Either way, have fun!

Let’s get started …


1. The “Amazing Race”

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Send students around the world (or continent, or country) scrambling to figure out travel and budgets around the continent. Put them in pairs or teams for extra collaborative fun. This would make a great project-based learning idea, incorporating several subjects. It would also be a terrific way to gamify a tourism credit course in high school or for adults.

Download luggage image from Pixabay (free)


2. Alien Invasion


Aliens are a huge theme with a lot of different possibilities. There are silly aliens, or scary sophisticated “movie” aliens … fighting the military … saving Planet Earth … big sweeping storylines. Include a progress bar after each major task.

Here are a bunch of progress bars at 123rf.com (this site requires you to purchase credits)


3. Time Trek

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Time travel. Always a good one for subjects that don’t have a common theme. Example: a science class with several unrelated units. You can have students earn experience points as they travel to different times and places.

Download image from Pixabay. (this site is free)


4. “Survivor”

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Put your students on teams, strand them on an island and then throw them into chaos! Each week a new problem to solve. Except in this game, no one gets voted off the island. Would be a nice “generic” type theme for a math class or other areas with content that is more challenging to gamify.

Grab Game Icons from 123rf.com


5. “Indiana Jones”

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Archaeology and a world wide series of adventures awaits. Have students collect a series of “treasures” hidden throughout the lessons. These could be badges (or images inside a Moodle label) triggered by assignment completion.

Download gold coins from Pixabay. (free)



6. Mars Landing


The great thing about a Mars storyline is that there is so much real coverage from NASA to draw on. This could be an ACTUAL plan to travel to Mars where students could draw on data from everything from fuel to oxygen to food supplies.

Grab the Mars Landscape image at 123rf.com


7. The “DaVinci Code”

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You can skip the Illuminati but keep the cool hidden symbols (completing assignments “reveals” them by triggering a badge). Each symbol (badge) adds another clue to the whereabouts of the (insert important artifact). Add a dose of racing around the major historical locations in a famous city, and you have a cool gamified unit or course.

Download image of Florence from Pixabay (free)


8. Top 10 Countdown


Choose the top ten learner outcomes for your course or unit and arrange them in “Top 10” style countdown. For example: Top 10 Crazy Worldview Smashing Events of the Renaissance. Each of the ten outcomes has a task, and each successful task triggers a badge or reward image.

 Top 10 image at 123rf.com


9 . The “Game of Life”


Remember this board game? Traveling around creating your job, family, house? This is a super fun idea for a high school CALM or careers class. Have students choose their “ride”, their job, etc and earn badges along the way.

Grab a board game image from 123rf.com


10. The Three Doors

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Have students choose their own adventure. Behind the three “doors” are three different assignments, each with a different twist.

Here are a bunch of doorway images from Pixabay (free)



11. Animal Island


This one is great for little guys. Have students become an animal from an imaginary island as they work through their assignments. Each “level” earns rewards like unlocking a mysterious part of the island, funny outfits for the animals and upgrades (furniture, luxury items) to their “huts”.  Would have a nice tie-in to a weather or ocean unit.

Ocean image from 123rf.com


12. Murder Mystery

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A murder mystery creates an intriguing story and a series of clues that takes steps to “unravel”. This is a natural theme for a Forensics, Law, Psychology or even a fun English course.

Image source for Typewriter is Pexels. (free)


13. The Wild West

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There’s a new Sheriff in town (you? your students?) and they (and their posse) need to track down the notorious (something) gang. This bunch of varmints have been robbing cattle ranches all along the (old timey) river. Can they be stopped??

Give students a map, and drop clues after they finish each assignment. The “clues” could be map coordinates or landmarks, places to investigate or sudden problems to solve.

Download Sherrif’s badge from Pixabay. (free)


14. Burger Time


In this restaurant-themed storyline, your learners can dine at (or create their own) Burger Joint. Each level could be a new stage in the restaurant’s development (idea, construction, menu) etc. For younger learners they could earn something silly like extra cheese, pickles, or a strawberry shake. Alternatively you could call it the “Healthy Snack Shack”.  🙂

Grab your Retro Burger poster at 123rf.com


15. Crash Landing

If you’ve seen the movie “The Martian” you know how exciting it is to watch someone stranded somewhere and see how they survive using their smarts … and a lot of science. This would make a terrific group project (Science Officer, Head Botanist, Chief Engineer)  and could be tailored for very adult learners.

Given dire circumstances and a limited set of resources students could have to demonstrate the outcomes of the course in a “real life” application. Perhaps divide the “story” into 5 chapters: mission launch, equipment malfunction, crash landing, survival, returning home.



16. The Play’s the Thing (Shakespeare gets ‘gamed)


Shakespeare is a common novel study in high school, but it’s a tough read for many students. Adding a fun storyline and some gamified elements to the unit can help pull them through online. Something a little edgy would definitely catch their attention, if that fits the culture of your school.

In this storyline, students are Theatre Managers putting on a production of (Hamlet? Macbeth?). Break the unit down into 5 chunks: Casting the players (from Hollywood?), Setting the Stage (creating the setting and where each scene will take place), then the three acts. Possibly a review written by a famous critic of the time could be a final project. Students can earn money, bigger crowds, upgraded seats at the Globe, even have the Queen attend the opening performance (all presented as badges).


17. Journey to the Center of the Earth


Another interesting way to gamify a unit on geology or Earth’s layers. Students could be put into teams and work through a series of progressively challenging problems working to the center of the Earth, layer by layer. A progress bar could be shaped like a core sample, and students could earn badges with geological images on them.

Grab the Earth Core image on 123rf.com


18. “Jurassic Park”

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Create your own Dinosaur-themed island. The course would look great with palm leaves hanging down and some big footprints beside each unit. Have students choose their own dinosaur and use it as an avatar. Great for younger learners.

Download Dinosaur image from Pixabay (free)


19. Zombie Apocalypse

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Zombies are a wealth of fun for both a storyline and for graphics. Take a look at this geography unit called Zombie-based Learning. In it, he breaks down the storyline into stages: the outbreak, survival, resettlement, etc. It’s a great example of taking a storyline and infusing it into the curriculum.


20. Rock Band


This one is pretty fun either as a story that runs alongside a regular course, or as a business or poetry unit, too. Set up a tour, write some tunes, create a tour budget, and make a few t-shirts too. Earn badges like “cash” or gold records … maybe a Grammy?

Grab a set of Guitar Picks as badges at 123rf.com



21. Build Your Business


Challenge students to build a business and gamify it with the “stages” of launching a company. This would be an amazing cross-curricular project to combine an English and math class, and is a natural for career / entrepreneur courses as well.

Grab the Girl Entrepreneur image from 123rf.com


22. Science Fair


Add a science fair unit to your course. Gamification really helps pull learners through all the stages of the project. Often students will get stuck on the project idea, or submitting data, or following through to the end. Add badges and rewards to this unit to get more successful results.

Grab the Science Badge image at 123rf.com


23. Race Against Time

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Adding an element of “count down” to the course adds a lot of drama and fun. Maybe a meteor is heading and we have to deflect it? A doomsday device by the evil Dr. (something James Bond-y) has to be tracked down? A single day broken into hours (like the tv show “24”)?

This lets you encourage students to work on pace and allows for some “timely” surprises and rewards.

Grab your Countdown Clock image at 123rf.com


24. The Virus


Similar to the zombie idea, the spread of a strange virus has a ton of storyline possibilities. It would make a gripping English unit, geography study or even a psychology course. Also, it has biology,  health care and emergency services potential too.

Grab the Caution image from 123rf.com


25. Pirate’s Treasure (Treasure Island)

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I love the idea of a historical story reenacted playfully in a course. There are many units to draw into this one, either alone or in combination: map skills, geography, ocean life, history, biomes, or just plain old treasure hunting.

Download pirate buttons from 123rf.com


I hope you found some storyline ideas above to get you started gamifying your course. Once you get the storyline idea, take a look at this article I wrote called: How to Start Gamifying Your Online Course.

Let me know in the comments below if you decide to try one of these ideas, or if you are already gamifying your course. I’d love to hear from you!