So, you want to create a learning game?

I’m teaching a game design course online with Karl Kapp that begins next week. There is a lot of interest from instructional designers, teachers, and sundry others in designing learning games. This, of course, is heartening to me since I am a major proponent in the use of games as a learning tool. Part of what we discuss in this course (and every course we do on game design) is the importance of playing and evaluating lots of games as part of learning to become a game designer. For those interested in learning games, in particular, I think it is important to play and study LEARNING games as well as regular, commercial games.

It can be tough to find a diversity of examples when you start hunting for learning games. Apps are easy to find. Games for older students and for adults are really tough to find. Here are a few learning games I can suggest for evaluation purposes. Some are better than others. The games are primarily for adults, but I also included some K-12 games.

One thing I think should immediately leap out to you is that few of these games are a complete learning experience by themselves. Most benefit from being PART of a larger experience without being the sum total of the learning experience:

  • Moneytopia – this is an older game I found several years ago, but still point people to for evaluative purposes. Its target audience is young veterans or military personnel. The goal is to make these people better at managing their money and planning their financial futures. You decide how effective you believe it will be. It definitely mirrors the trend of lots of learning games I see that spend lots of time telling people how to play before they actually get to play.
  • Bezier pen game  – This game is amazing. Its target audience is visual designers who need to learn to use a Bezier pen with online applications. It has NO “tell.” It is 100% learn by doing.  It offers a completely opposite approach to Moneytopia. The tutorial is beautiful. The game goal is simple: create images using the fewest number of nodes possible. Replayability is very high. Feedback is continuous. If you are a non-artist (like me), it’s frustrating but very engaging.
  • Spent – this is technically a game for change, but I can see this game used in a variety of ways. The game is a conversation starter. I doubt that by itself it changes anything, but used as part of an education campaign or a classroom experience, I think it can have quite an impact. Notice that you get into the game immediately and it’s a very quick play. Replayability is high.
  • The Undocumented/Migrant Trail game – This is an educational experience designed for middle-school and high-school students. The goal is to educate students on the  immigration policy controversy. It flips things, though, and casts students in the role of the undocumented immigrant trying to gain access to the U.S. (Be aware you have to select “Migrant Trail” from the navigation menu. The URL does not take you straight to the game.)

Now for a few great apps:

  • Dumb Ways to Die – I LOVED this game! It is a mobile phone game (playable on tablets, too) that was part of a train safety campaign done for Melbourne, Australia. The game is sassy, funny – and not meant to be the sole learning experience. It IS a way to engage the audience and get a few points across in a humorous way (such as do not touch the red button and stand behind the white line). The link I provided goes to App Store. The app is also available for Android devices.
  • Dragon Box – this game supposedly teaches algebra without mentioning algebra at all. I enjoyed the game, but I do not know if I could successfully complete high school algebra again. I think the game would make a fabulous companion tool in an algebra class. I’m less clear it replaces algebra class.
  • Grading Game – This is a personal favorite of mine. It has a simple, but effective, back story, and I love the feedback mechanisms.

Finally… let’s look at what folks are doing using rapid authoring tools. These templates were posted by the Rapid eLearning Blog several months ago. If you looked at some of the other links I listed above before you look at these templates, you will notice a big shift. The game design elements you can use – and the game play experience you can create – is limited when you attempt to use an eLearning authoring tool to produce the game.

Most designers agree that eLearning course authoring tools are not the best tools for creating games, but this is often the only tool eLearning folks have to use. They want to create a game…and the only tool they have is their rapid authoring tool. So…. review these and decide for yourself what you think. They may spark other ideas or they may inspire you to explore a game creation tool such as Construct2, whose output can be embedded INTO an eLearning authoring tool such as Storyline or Lectora.