Games often attach an epic meaning or higher purpose to get people excited and inspired to keep playing.
Of course, it's a story, but no matter how fantastical it is—like slaying a dragon—so long as it's a story the players buy into, they'll be inspired to become the hero of it.
It's not always about an enemy, either. It could be about growing trees, saving the planet, or […looking for one more example].
The examples I just gave aren't even games, but they tap into the same human emotions as games do to inspire us into action. That's subtle gamification at play whether or not we label them as such.
How can we use the same techniques to inspire and motivate learners?
Think about the "dragon" in your students' learning journey. What do they need to fight the dragon, and how can they obtain it?