FIVE WAYS TO MAKE GAMES EDUCATIONAL
After a long absence, I am happy to bring you a new article on the topic of educational gaming. I apologize for the delay, but in my defense I must say that our company was busy creating new educational games, and as a result I have gained new experience to share with our valued readers.
Today’s topic is about how to best put the “educational” into “gaming” without ruining the fun of it. As I often stated before, educational games have a sour reputation of being utterly boring! A learner retains best the information and experience which they find exciting and interesting. Therefore, it is worth the effort to look at ways of injecting the education into games in ways which do not ruin the experience for the learner.
Without further delay, I present to you five effective ways – in no particular order – of making games educational.
Trivia games present questions to the player either as the main aspect of the game, or as a way to gain extra points or bonuses. Trivia questions are often in the format of multiple choice, and pertain to the curriculum studied in the course. An effective use of trivia is to combine it with mini-games. For example, let’s consider a game such as “Candy Crush Saga” or “Bejeweled”. Trivia questions might pop up after completing a level, or when a special (rare) tile is matched. Correct answers might award a player with a point bonus, or give a special “power-up” which can be used in the game.
Be careful not to spam trivia questions too frequently, or the game will turn into a quiz. Trivia is a good way to reinforce material learned in a course through repetition in a fun way!
Pros: Easy to program, can address any content, easy to combine as a bonus activity in various games.
Cons: Overuse can quickly sour a fun game.
A simulation game involves creating scenarios or situations which simulate the activity you wish to train, often in a simplified manner. Many simulation games have a wide appeal among players. Some simulate the running of a business, such as a diner, a train company, or a zoo.
Others simulate an activity, such as making sushi or fishing. If the material that you want to train can be presented as an activity, this kind of “hands-on” approach goes miles in helping the player familiarize and retain the information presented. Pros: Fun, can simplify a complex activity, hands-on approach aids retention.
Cons: Must be designed carefully, can be difficult and/or time-consuming to program.
A mission or a quest game involves getting the player to complete a variety of tasks. Usually, there is a reward for each completed quest or mission. Sometimes the reward involves improving the player character through accumulation of coins or experience (which can be used to improve various skills), or items which can be used in the game.
From an educational perspective, the quests or missions may involve course material, presented in a fun way. For example, to learn about the Periodic Table of Elements, the missions could require the player to travel to various places across the game world in search of each element. As each element is found, information about it could be presented and the element could be “collected”. This type of game coincides with the “Collecting” game described below in point 5.
The same game mechanic could be used to learn about a variety of subjects, from geography to history, astronomy, physics, or material specific to your curriculum.
Pros: Immersive, fun, excellent for retaining information in an interactive way.
Cons: One of the most difficult and costly game types to program, especially if the world is a massively multi-player online role-playing game (MMORPG).
A detective game involves the player finding and evaluating information to arrive at the correct conclusion. Some of us from the older generation may remember a game named “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?” in which the player had to catch a thief who travelled around the world. Educationally, this game was a great way to learn about geography, as well as some interesting facts about various countries and cultures. A few years ago, a colleague and I made a modified version of this game for an Anti-Money Laundering (AML) module, in which the player attempts to track down a money launderer based on clues gathered at various locations. A similar game can be made in the style of Scotland Yard, or even as a “found object” game in which you search for items or clues in a picture. Your imagination is the key!
Pros: Interactive, moderately easy to program, can be combined with puzzles and mini-games.
Cons: This type of game may not fit every learning curriculum.
Collecting games rely on the player’s desire to collect beautiful or rare items, complete equipment sets, and decorate or personalize their virtual character, pets, or surroundings. Collecting games are often highly addictive, banking on the player’s desire to collect more, or to complete a collection set. Some games involve a virtual character or pet which you can outfit, buy a home for, decorate with furniture or wardrobe, and groom. Other games may involve outfitting a character with powerful items (such as weapons and armour), which have an effect on gameplay. However, often it is not necessary for collected items to be powerful or useable, as players love to decorate and personalize even if the item has no further use beyond the aesthetic. Making a collecting game multiplayer is additionally beneficial, as players love to show off their character and possessions to other players.
Involving curriculum into collecting games is very easy, as collectible items serve as a perfect reward system for passing quizzes and other course requirements.
Pros: Addictive, implementable on a mobile platform, provides expandable reward system.
Cons: Can be time-consuming to implement, especially as an online multi-player game.
The above are only five ways to add educational value to games. If you use your imagination, you will discover many more. I would recommend combining various aspects together, for example you could make a Quest game with aspects of Collecting and Trivia. I hope that these ideas serve as an inspiration to you, and I am looking forward to a new generation of exciting and effective educational games. We have an opportunity to make an “Education Revolution” by introducing the medium of gaming into the equation. With a bit of imagination and a lot of hard work, we can make gaming a powerful and effective tool for education and training, for the young and old alike.
If you would like to explore more about gamification and eLearning, please look at our company website: Pathways Training and eLearning, at http://www.pathwaystrainingandelearning.com/ . We always look for fresh ways to engage the learner and to make the experience as fun as possible!
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