Games for learning – a prescriptive approach?

I’ve recently presented a research symposium and as always really valued the questions and input from the audience on the day. Unusally I was contacted a couple of weeks later with some questions from someone who had viewed my presentation online and it gave me the chance to write a more considered, less on the spot reply which really got me thinking about the prescriptive nature of designing games based activities for learning. Jotting it down here as I think I may be returning to these thoughts soon…

Do you think that the creation of games, for collaborative learning, is a prescriptive pursuit or do enjoyable, successful games emerge from a more creative position?

I think that whether it is the creation of a game for pleasure or a learning activity that incorporates game elements there is a blending together of both creative inspiration alongside a prescriptive approach. Particular with games for learning or games based activities, there needs to be a prescriptive approach for several reasons – each module or course will have specific learning outcomes and pedagogical requirements – students participating in a module will have particular learning styles and needs. These things would need to be considered in detail before any major decisions re: design could be made to ensure the activity is fit for purpose and will achieve its aim of supporting learning. That is not to say this has to be at the expense of creative input or even to allow the activity to be shaped to some extent by its participants however there needs to be a ‘prescriptive’ framework that guides the initial development. Currently in the field of games based learning there is also a desperate need for research backed up by empirical data – again this requires an element of consistency across the process of implementing games based activities or games based learning – here I mean consistency in terms of research design, methodological framework for running the activities and use of a conceptual framework in the design process to ensure all relevant points have been considered. (And, at the risk of repeating myself – sorry! I don’t think this then excludes creative input or ideas for the activity to emerge from creative processes).

With this in mind, how can games mechanics be designed to maintain the sense of play, of fun, that naturally attracts people to engage with games… again, and again?

I can give my opinion on this and how I intend to try and achieve success with the implementation of game mechanics however if I had a definitive answer I think I would be in great demand by all game designers! The challenge when designing any game or games based activity, for learning or not, is to get the balance of the mechanics right for the audience. The game mechanics need to create a sense of challenge for participants  – a way of receiving feedback on their progress, and a sense of effect on the activity they are partaking in (amongst other things). The trick is ensuring that the challenge is not too easy / hard, that the feedback in timely and appropriate and that the participant feels that they are guided enough through the game whilst having a sense of control. The only way to ensure that the mechanics employed meet these requirements is to use tools such as the conceptual framework I am implementing to consider all the different factors that may impact the game and participant characteristics. Hopefully, by doing this the correct mechanics, used at the right level of difficulty will mean you end up with a game or activity that people want to engage with (again, and again!)


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