Educational Games

From ElateWiki

Educational games have become part of the e-learning toolkit with the widespread integration of games culturally. “Given that gaming, game-based learning and simulations are highly visible memes currently, respondents were asked to discuss their impact on the world of e-learning” (Oehlert, 2003, p. 24). Games have been used for learning for more than 40 years (Burgos, Tattersall, & Koper, 2005, n.p.).


Some Rationales for Educational Gaming

One central rationale for integrating educational games is to connect with the “digital native” learners of the present generation of college students. Another is that games are engaging, addictive, and fun. They offer real-time feedback and immersive spaces and simulations.

Some pedagogical theories supporting educational gaming include Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (1994): “According to his model ‘learning begins with a concrete experience followed by collection of data and reflective observations about that experience. On the abstract conceptualization stage a learner makes generalizations, draws conclusions, and forms hypotheses about the experience. In the final stage, the learner tests these hypotheses and ideas through active experimentation in new circumstances” (Kiili, 2005, p. 17, as cited in Schönwald, Euler, Angehrn, and Seufert, 2006, p. 17).

Bartle suggests that people go online into immersive spaces to explore, socialize, achieve and control others (Castronova, 2005, p. 72). They experience immersion in full-sensory environments, a sense of emotional satisfaction or flow with the gameplay, affect (emotion), and personal challenge.

M. Prensky (2001) suggests that games contain six structural factors:

Rules Goals and Objectives Outcomes and Feedback Conflict / Competition / Challenge / Opposition Interaction Representation or Story (p. 119, as cited in Ahdell & Andresen, 2001, p. 56).

What’s a Game?

J. Huizinga suggests that games should not have moral consequence in order to be a game. This is known as the notion of irrelevance. Here, people may play-act as if the game matters only (Castronova, 2005, p. 71). The so-called “game conceit” is that a game world exists in a “magic circle” untouched by the outer world. It is a place of the imagination.

Games have defined limits or parameters and prescribed rules. Competition lies at the heart of most types of gaming.

Some Types of Digital Games

Alessi and Trollip (2001) cite various (non-mutually-exclusive) game categories:

• “Adventure and role-playing games, • business games, • board games, • combat games, • logical games • and word games”.

Games may be categorized based on their “play formations”.

• “Agon—described as competitive play, which requires skill and training. First person shooter games fall into this category, as would any multiplayer games in which we compete against other individuals or teams. Agonistic games are those where there is a clear winner or losing outcome.

Alea—games of chance or fortune (e.g. gambling games such a roulette or lotteries). Many sports simulation computer games might be said to have an aleatory quality; chance plays a part in the game outcome.

Mimicry—games in which we are called upon to ‘pretend,’ to simulate or to play a role. Roleplaying games such as Everquest (Son 1998), The Sims (Maxis 2002) or Fable (Lionhead 2004) would fit in this category.

Ilinx (vertigo)—games that are an inducement to dizziness and disorder, such as a child spinning or an adult submitting to disorder (fairground rides might fall into this category, asmight recreational drug use, drunkenness, etc.). Some of the visual spectacle of thrilling movement and spatial exploration offer us ilinx type pleasures. Games such as the Doom series, Unreal Tournament or the Quake series might be described as offering some degree of ilinx. Other games which involve greater physical action, coordination and speed, such as dancing games (described as Beatmania games or Bemani games) and the more recent Eye Toy games (Son 2003- 2005), could also be argued to offer ilinx-like experiences” (Dovey & Kennedy, 2006, p. 24).

Some Game Elements

Games are known to have “mixed scales,” which means that object sizes and distance relations are not necessarily consistent in terms of mapping to the real world. The “user interface” refers generally to the way a person interacts with the computer in terms of visuals, sound, text, and other design elements. The scene engine manages the graphic scenes, including insertion, modification and removal of objects. A physics engine defines how objects interact with each other in this multi-universe or immersive space. “Fidelity” refers to how closely the digital object reflects the real-world version. All games offer some models of the real, but the idea is to design for relevant fidelity, not full or high physical fidelity (which may be too detailed).

Digital Game Studies

Game studies focus on a range of issues, often about what makes a game playable, engrossing and imbued with learning value. How games motivate people may also be an area of study. “Ethnographers, educational theorists and psychologists, for example, were studying games, play, learning and pedagogy long before computer games came along” (Carr, 2005, p. 22).

Sources of Digital Games

Educational games may be adapted from off-the-shelf (OTS) games, albeit with clear preparatory learning before the game use and clear debriefing afterwards. Repurposing generic games generally involves the use of clear lesson plans. Game engines may be “modded” or modified based on open-source games. Some educational games and trainings are created from “scratch,” but given the expense and heavy time investment, such an approach is relatively rare in higher education.


Games may be played by people as individuals and as members of a team.

The uses of digital games requires addressing possible misinterpretations of data and domain knowledge.

See Also

Jeff Orkin & Deb Roy's "The Restaurant Game":

MIT's The Media Lab:


Educational Simulations


Ahdell, R. & Andresen, G. (2001). Games and simulations in workplace eLearning: How to align eLearning content with learner needs. Master of Science Thesis, Norwegian University of Science and Technology. pp. 1 - 158.

Burgos, D., Tattersall, C., and Koper, R. (2005). Repurposing existing generic games and simulations for e-learning. n.p.

Carr, D. (2005). Research into computer games and learning: A brief overview. Games and Simulations, Interact. The Learning Technology Support Service, University of Bristol: Issue 31. pp. 22 – 23.

Castronova, E. (2005). “The Right to Play.” (Chapter). The State of Play: Law, Games, and Virtual Worlds. J.M. Balkin and B.S. Noveck, Ed. New York: New York University Press. pp. 68 – 85.

Dovey, J. & H.W. Kennedy. (2006). Game Cultures: Computer Games as New Media. New York: Open University Press.

Oehlert, M. (2003). The future of e-learning models and the language we use to describe them. The Masie Center and Boise State University. pp. 3 – 38.

Schönwald, I., Euler, D., Angehrn, A., and Seufert, S. (2006). EduChallenge Learning Scenarios: Designing and evaluating learning scenarios with a team-based simulation on change management in higher education. SCIL Report 8. pp. 1 – 39.