Digital games have the potential to create active and engaging environments for learning, supporting problem-solving and learning through practice. This is true for K12 students as well as seasoned corporate learners.
Most technology-aided learning enthusiasts are eager to dive into game design so they can create learning games to be used in corporate settings. Creating effective learning games requires learning how to design good mechanics or rules and incorporating meaningful game elements. These features are included in games that help us immerse in the play experience. If the game is being designed for commercial purposes, the sole aim is to come up with game mechanics that are fun and game elements that are intriguing. But when designing a learning game, game mechanics and game elements that are utilized have to complement the learning goals.
Here are some game mechanics that can be utilized for effective learning game design:
1. Strategy and Chance: Strategy-based games puts a lot of control into the players’ hands in the form of decisions they can make that affect game play or their odds of achieving the goal. On the other hand, games that are heavily based on chance put the player in a highly reactive mode where they have little control over the outcome. For best learning delivery, serious games should combine a bit of both strategy and chance within the design to make it interesting.
Most challenges within the work scenario of corporate employees are multi-layered. The problem that they encounter within the game can be based on chance while the solution that they come up with can involve the element of strategy. The blend of both chance and strategy gives the learners something to do as well as provides required relief as well.
2. Conflict: For a game to be interesting, there should be some sort of conflict to present a challenge for the player to overcome. The challenge could be a physical obstacle, combat with another player, or a puzzle that has to be solved.
There are various types of conflict that can be built in game based learning. Designers can incorporate a conflict that arises with other players. Learners are pitted against one another, or a sense of collaborative learning can also be built in with a challenge that all players must work together to overcome. Learners can be pitted against the game itself, to create excitement. Designers can also represent real world conflicts that learners can learn to deal with like conflict between quality and time constraints or quality and budget. This empowers the learners to instil within themselves skills needed in everyday work life.
3. Theme and Story: A theme can add interest and create engagement within a learning game. The theme can be conveyed with the visuals and with a brief “back story” that is included in the rules. Often, when themes are introduced within games, there is no accompanying narrative running through the game. Thematic elements are used to convey the idea of theme with minimal story.
However, an entire storyline can also be inserted within a learning game to make it interesting. Story offers a narrative thread that pulls through an entire game. Learners find it far easier to remember facts when they are part of a narrative than simply mugging up facts devoid of any “story” or context around them. To create a storyline for a learning game, it is important to keep in mind that a strong story has four elements:
• Plot: Something has to happen for it to be a story
• Tension: Often thought of as conflict
While it does take considerable efforts and a lot of creative thinking to come up with a string story within a game, it is certainly worth the efforts.
4. Aesthetics: Most seasoned game developer would agree that aesthetics consistently rates as an area of high appeal. By themselves, aesthetics have the power to pull people into the game. Visuals are a powerful means of engaging players and helping them immerse into the game experience. In video games, aesthetics are a huge part of the game experience. With learning games, the temptation can be to cut corners on aesthetics and not realize the impact this has on the learning value of the game.
Even if the emphasis of aesthetics in educational games is low compared to that of entertainment games, it is necessary to create certain amount of visual appeal in learning games as well. If budgetary restraints that do not include the moneys for a dedicated graphics designer for the game, online resources can be utilized for inserting suitable aesthetics into learning games. Here are a few:
• For graphics bundles that can be downloaded and used in digital games – opengameart.org
• For cut-out people and graphics as well as some “game” templates – elearningtemplates.com/elearning-activities/
5. Rewards: Rewards are things or keep-sakes that players earn through game play. The new wave in learning games and in gamification of learning, is to give players achievements for accomplishing certain tasks or hitting certain milestones. There is a general trend towards giving lots of rewards but game designers have to use them effectively.
A popular strategy is to reward people for completing boring or menial tasks which are necessary within the game. It is also important to give rewards or points for performance rather than completion. For example, giving someone a badge for completing a section, may excite learners to hit completion even without understanding the concepts within the game. However, if the reward is given for completion of a section to a certain standard of proficiency, it will encourage learners to perform their very best. Within a game, the score is a powerful feedback tool. The players should understand the ways of accruing points or other incentives well and this will motivate them to play better as well as learn better.
Popular game mechanics can be utilized to create learning games that enhance gaming experience and contribute constructively to the learning experience. While considering multiple game elements, choose the most suitable one through a process of testing and tweaking. This will undoubtedly lead to the creation of an effective and successful learning game.