Time to play: 5 tips for designing (real) game-based learning

GameOFF, a game for learning how to moderate screen time, and how to inform teens about screen addiction, designed by CCS.

Game-based learning yields great results and learners love it, but only when done properly. Here are five things you should bear in mind before you develop a learning game!

1. Get a game designer on-board. 

The primary purpose of learning games is to teach, that much is true. But for this to be achieved, it needs to be an actual game. 
Games have specific characteristics and conceptualizing and designing a game is a very specific process. This process must be led by a game designer.
This is the only way to ensure that your learning game is engaging, fun, puts trainees/players in the flow, and eventually conveys skills and knowledge effectively.  

Who is who, a game that aims to provide knowledge about the European Institutions and Officials, designed by CCS.

2. Follow ADDIE.  

Begin learning game design as you would begin designing any kind of eLearning: examine your business goals, and build learning goals and objectives that will achieve them. Create and review your content, plan your development process, get a proper deployment schedule in place, and specify your evaluation method.
You’re creating a game, but you’re still doing eLearning.

3. Mind your MDA. 

MDA stands for mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics. To put it crudely, it’s a framework for analyzing (and designing) games.  

Mechanics refers to the rules and conventions that dictate how the game is played. They translate a learning path into a gaming experience, and they present the trainee/player with interesting and impactful choices. The logical flow of the game and any resulting algorithms are also described here. Here are some example mechanics from popular games: 

  • In Candy Crush, aligning 5 identical candies creates a ‘bomb’ candy.
  • The classic Monopoly board has 40 tiles. Players move by rolling a hexahedron die. 
  •  A game of football lasts 90 minutes which are played in two halves. 

Dynamics describe the run-time behavior of a game and its response to player input. For instance: 

  • In the classic arcade game Decathlon, the faster you move the joystick from side to side, the faster you move. 
  • In Who Wants to be a Millionaire, when the player uses the ‘50-50’ aid, two of the distractors (wrong answer choices) are eliminated. 
  • In a first-person shooter, when the player opens a specific door, 5 enemies jump out and attack her. 

Finally, Aesthetics refers to the emotional response the player has to the mechanics and dynamics of the game. 
How you want your trainees to feel at each stage of the learning game experience is vital, and it determines the level of challenge, and therefore whether the trainee will stay in the flow (we will talk more about this state of being ‘in the zone’ in a future article). 
Do the above sound hard to grasp? They are. That’s what we meant in step (1) above. 🙂  

rAn, a learning game for raising environmental awareness, designed by CCS.

4. Do some paper playtesting. 

Well before artists and developers start creating graphics and code, you should engage in some early paper playtesting. There, you will try to simulate the game experience by using whatever is available.

Large sheets of carton paper become your ‘screen’. You use colored markers to draw the ‘graphics’. Coins, bottle caps and figurines become game characters. Dice are rolled to determine randomized outcomes. This is great fun, and bound to give you deep insight. 

Is the game you have in mind actually fun? And, since you’re developing a learning game, does it achieve its learning objectives? This is where you find out early enough to make changes to it before you embark on development.  

5. Don’t spend too much. 

Great games aren’t great because their developers spent a fortune on graphics, video and animation. They draw their power from great game design.
Think of chess, backgammon, hide and seek, Pictionary, Minesweeper and Solitaire. These are classics that draw power from excellent game design, not from spending a fortune on visuals. 

Here’s an exercise! 

What are some of the mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics of the games mentioned in this article?

Want to talk about it with our game design team? Contact us, citing ‘game design exercise’ in your message! We’d love to hear from you! 🙂

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