What’s the Benefit of “Fun” in Games?


Yes, I know. You’ve heard that games are very useful for learning. However, it’s less about creating a game than actually understanding what it is that people find “fun” about playing games. There is power in understanding what makes games engaging to us. Armed with that knowledge, you can use it to inform your learning designs.

This table offers a quick summary. Use it to inform your decisions when designing learning games or learning activities that you want to actually keep people engaged.

What’s fun, why it’s fun, and how it can affect learning game design.
Game Activities People Find Fun What Makes Them Engaging Implications for Learning Games
  • Grapple with challenges.
  • Triumph over a challenge after working at it.
  • Achieve something (a win state, a trophy, a new level).
  • Figure out solutions to problems.
  • Create strategies that lead to a win or resolution of a challenge.
  • Mental satisfaction of overcoming adversity or some difficulty.
  • Sensation of mastery and accomplishment.
  • Mental stimulation; using their brains and savvy to find a solution.
  • Compatibility with many people’s natural tendency to be goal oriented.
  • Thoughtful incorporation of goals, challenges, and adversity can be linked to real-world job situations.
  • Goals are everywhere in the work world: sales goals, productivity goals, safety goals, retention goals.
  • Challenges abound in the workplace: time, money, and resource management; economic challenges; adverse event challenges; innovation challenges.
  • Problem solving and strategizing are higher-order skills that many workers and companies need more of. Games become a useful way of encouraging this type of thinking, if it’s required for the job.
  • Earn the title of “winner.”
  • Feeling of well-being and pride that comes from the admiration and recognition that winners and achievers often get.
  • Having employees that feel valued and recognized is critical to sustaining engagement. You can leverage this need in your game’s design.
  • Collect, explore, or escape.
  • Being active mentally stimulates us and keeps us from feeling bored or distracted.
  • Feeling of accomplishment; this is closely linked to goal achievement.
  • Action often generates an emotional response. Emotion interests us.
  • Engagement in a learning activity is typically measured by how involved a learner gets; activity-based elements tend to generate more involvement than passive ones, such as reading or watching. If mental activity and physical actions are required of us, it’s harder to disengage than if we remain passive.
  • Collaborate with others to work through a challenge or get something done.
  • Desire to feel valued by teammates.
  • Desire not to let someone down (if playing on a team).
  • Desire for interaction with others.
  • As with action, interaction often generates an emotional response. Emotion interests us.
  • To accomplish goals, people usually have to collaborate with others. Learning games lend themselves well to cooperative play, which helps build collaborative behaviors.
  • Role-play or imagine themselves in a different context.
  • Desire to feel creative.
  • Ability to safely explore something we’d normally consider too “out there” to be a part of.
  • Enjoyment of pretending or imagining; it can be very freeing.
  • In the workplace, mistakes can be costly. Allowing people to role play or imagine in a game is a safe practice area that causes no harm.
  • Fantasy can also be a useful way of helping workplace learners accept a situation they would otherwise object to as not being realistic enough to fit their specific work world. The fantasy elements make it clear it is not supposed to be an exact representation of their world.
  • Imagination in game play can also cultivate creativity and innovation – two desirable things in a workplace.