The best games to use in education are often not made for education

Almost every game that I’ve seen or played that is made for educational use is so up front with what you are suppose to learn that it makes the player not want to play the game. How educational based games actually differentiates itself from other games is an interesting discussion. Is it that the game developers have to be really clear that you as a player have to show that you’ve learned something, that there is something to measure. Knowledge in games is often measured by for example the player having to answer questions by performing a quiz after a gameplay segment. But can games be educational and fun to play?

The learning should be in the gameplay mechanics

But how would you otherwise measure and learn something through a game? My answer is in the gameplay and the teachers role as a guide. The knowledge that the player is going to learn through playing the game needs to be implemented in the gameplay mechanics. The gameplay cant be separated from the context that the player is set to learn by playing the game. For instance if you as a player play civilization there is a lot of context and knowledge to be learnt, but the winning gameplay strategy is not based on that you know your history. You win the game by knowing how to play and what to research next. You can do and play that way without even reflecting over how your choices matter and how they matter in a historical context. This is where the teachers roll is very important. The teacher can clarify the knowledge and context that is actually in the game by showing the connection to history and the history books. But without a tutor that shows the connection to what the students are actually learning the knowledge is lost.

But can’t the game be the tutor?

Why can’t the game show the connection like the teacher can? I would say no, because its all about the attention span. The students are used to playing games at a fast pace and not usually interested in the context. Many kids even skip the cinematics in games just to reach the next gameplay segment.  And how do you make cinematics that are engaging, that really shows the connections without being stale and writing on the nose. This is a problem that is found in educational films too. And why play a game if you can learn through just watching the cinematics?

Another way to make the player learn is through text messages. Take for instance the Assassins Creed-series that started out by being very upfront with the education that was in the game by giving you big chunks of text about cities, people and buildings. But by the fifth Assassins Creed-game you barely knew that the feature was there, probably because the developers understood that the player wasn’t all that interested in reading that much text.

What about creative games?

Games like Minecraft create a different scenario. It’s a game where the teacher can set the rules and creativity is the base, but it doesn’t set out to educate. It’s up to the teacher to make the scenario and elevate what the students are learning by building in the game.

Use games to create curiosity

Educational games should deliver experiences that creates curiosity so that the teacher can elevate what the students learned through discussions. Take for example the short flash game ”The Republia Times” where you take the role of a news paper editor in a country that is ruled by a dictator. The game gives you a feeling of how you need to think to survive and rescue your family through small but effective means. It creates an experience that you probably would want to discuss in school. Sort of like a flipped classroom where the students play the game at home so that they can discuss it in an educational context in school the next day. And how many students would say no to playing a game as homework?

Ps. I will give a couple of examples of gameplay mechanics that are connected to education material in a later post.


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