In spite of increased interest in game-based learning, the development of educational game design methods has been insignificant. Apparently, this lack has negatively influenced the quality of published educational games and the diffusion of game based learning. One of the biggest problems of educational games has been the inadequate integration of educational and game design principles. Furthermore, it is common that the multidisciplinary nature of the design teams also arouses problems – there are too many chief cooks with their own recipes without having a common language to collaboratively mix the masterpiece. Good educational games just do not get cooked by merely hiring game designers and instructional designers for the game design team. A shared vocabulary and an understanding of how the instructional designers’ and the game designers’ work aligns and synergizes would facilitate the development of high quality educational games.
As a solution, I have proposed a pattern-based approach that supports the design, analysis and comparison of educational games. Educational game design patterns that extend existing entertainment game design patterns are descriptions of commonly reoccurring parts of the design of a educational game that concern and optimize gameplay from an educational perspective.
The aim of this post is to awaken the educational game community to approach educational game design more structurally and to motivate them to participate in creation of design patterns. The current patterns are presented in educational game design pattern library:
In the same page you can propose patterns to be included in the library.
In addition, I will publish here a short description of each pattern in order to collect feedback about them and facilitate discussion about patterns.
Two intensive days in Game Developers Conference clearly showed that it’s all about money. No matter, if the talk was about casual, serious, social, hardcore or mobile game, at some point the financial issues were considered. Hey, that’s not a surprise – just think how much it takes to develop a good game. However, whether the game is a master piece or not it is never guaranteed that the developer gets his investments back. In the area of learning games the situation is even worse.
Contradictory to my naive beliefs, the recent years have painfully showed that the world, school world in particularly, is not mature enough for game based learning approach. It seems that also publishers have noticed that. In the conference I met several people that had quite good products waiting to be finished and published and they had waited and waited… As I understood, finding a publisher for a learning game can be almost impossible – maybe only Tom could complete such a mission at this time. Someone was even asked to pay money to get his game published. Of course they would have had some revenue of the game sales – something like 20%. I guess that they are still looking and waiting. It seems that nobody dares to make necessary risks to get things going.
However, getting a deal with a publisher does not guarantee that you see the money that you have dreamed of. Maybe after waiting enough you sign a publishing contract justifying you only a small share of sales and at the same time you may have lost all your IPs. Yesterday, I heard many sad stories about problems with publishers who were too passive, too constraining, too greedy etc. So, be carefull and don’t rush, because the consequences can persecute you quite a long time.
The inspiring talks of independent game developers truly opened my eyes. The main thing that I realized was that I want to be independent. It may not be easy, we may need more capital, but at the end we will be free and it’s up to us weather we manage to see the money or not. So, it’s time to mull up all the ideas and work out new business models. But there is a problem – I have lost the hunch of the money in the area of learning games. Maybe it’s time to make something casual and gather some capital to be ready for the next hunch. It can’t be far away. Maybe we are just trying to sell learning games to wrong target group… Do you hunch it – the money?
I participated the European Conference on Game Based Learning held in Barcelona. The conference was fruitful and I got a plenty of new ideas. However, I am really concerned about how many researchers see the meaning of reflection in game based learning. The first keynote of the conference triggered me to write this post. In his keynote speech Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen argued that reflective thinking is not important in playing learning games. He tried to convince that reflection does not belong to playing – playing have to be fun and reflection doesn’t facilitate it. On the other hand, he emphasized the meaning of external reflection processes – performed for example after the playing session. I agree with Simon that the complementary discussions and debriefings are important events in game based learning, but my opinion about reflection during playing is totally controversial to his.
In my mind, reflection is a vital part in learning – either in traditional or game based settings. Simon used hammer as an example. He argued that player does not have to reflect how to use a hammer – it is only a hammer – just use it. Simon totally misses the point of reflection. Let’s consider the use of a hammer in an adventure game with the help of Problem-Based Gaming model (Kiili, 2007; Kiili & Ketamo, 2007). Imagine a situation where player has to open a closed box in an adventure game.
A) Player forms a strategy: He is going to open the box by hammering it.
B) Player hammers the box.
C) The box opens after few hours hammering.
S1) Player does not evaluate the opening process.
S2) Player finds another similar box.
S3) Player uses the same strategy (hammers the box)
D1) Player recaptures the experience with the hammer and understands that hammer is not the best tool to open the box.
D2) Player discovers a new strategy: He is going to open the box with acid.
D3) The box opens very easily.
So what is reflection in games? It is an activity in which player recaptures his experience, think about it, mull it over and evaluate it. The outcome of the reflection may be a personal synthesis of knowledge, a validation of hypothesis laid or a new strategy to be tested. In the hammer example (D2) player generates a new strategy because the first one wasn’t optimal (Double-loop learning). Player emphasizes the scrutiny of governing variables in order to generate better strategy to open the box. Unlike double-loop learners, single-loop learners (S1-S3) tend to only operationalize the chosen goal and playing strategy, rather than challenging and developing it.
The hammer example shows the role of reflection in gaming. However, this isn’t the best example – the activity is so simple. Try to consider reflection in different context – for example in business gaming involving lot of decisions on the use of working shifts, the amount of machines in production lines, the amount of employees etc. I argue that in complex games the meaning of reflection is emphasized. This lays challenges to learning game designers.
- How can we design such feedback mechanisms that trigger reflection?
- How can we support double-loop learning?
- How can we avoid gulfs of evaluation?
- How can we avoid cognitive overload?
Unfortunately, the educational technology field has lacked of structural approaches to design reflection. Thus, I decided to do my bit in arousing discussion on this topic. In the ECGBL I proposed a Reflection Walkthrough method that can be used to design reflection patterns. Reflection Walkthrough (RW) is an expert evaluation method conducted by educational technology experts. In Reflection Walkthrough, the evaluator aims to locate cognitively problematic issues, as well as to discover ways of providing more effective forms of cognitive feedback, thereby stimulating players to reflect on their problem-solving strategies and solutions created.
RW is still in an early development stage and the article reported the first empirical evaluations of the method. According to these results RW seems to be a promising design method. However, the real power of RW can’t be determined due to small sample size. More research in different kinds of contexts and with games in different developmental stages is needed in order to validate the method and empirically prove its usefulness. The full description of the method and the related study can be found from the proceedings of the ECGBL 2008.
I am looking for colleagues to work on this topic. So, if you are interested to test RW don’t hesitate to contact me. We could further develop the RW method together.
To conclude, I argue that reflection needs to be taken into account when designing learning games. If the game doesn’t trigger reflection, the production of engaging stories, amazing graphics and awesome sounds are just waste of resources. Conceptual change is the key to success.
Welcome to the world of game based learning. In this blog I will share my thoughts and research results about learning games and related issues. Ha! Is the theoretical approach too boring for you? Don’t worry. I will also provide you a chance to play some prototypes of games that I am developing. Because I don’t believe in totally free lunches, I expect some feedback as a corresponding term. Basicly, I am aspiring something like a Living Lab.
I will also provide some reports of events that I have participated. In fact, I am traveling to Barcelona tomorrow. So, I will share the highlights ofEuropean Conference on Game Based Learningwith you pretty soon.