Design an educational game

Written by rex on 11/03/2013 11:26:36

Games, like books, films and art are cultural products which inspire the viewer. It’s clear that such product is contained in its own universe. Once you enter a story you enter the magical circle in which the world and subjects are placed. If the magical circle is used probably it will suck the viewer into the fictional world.

Like stories, games have been around for as long as humankind can remember. Games come forth from the will to play and make it exciting by using some sort of rules. Games help children and adults to learn and progress as they age. Games are not related to humans alone. The animal kingdoms show some sort of primitive games between children.

Designing a game that’s fun to play is one thing, creating a game that’s fun and teaches is another story. It might seem a complex task to combine fun and an educative element but if you follow the steps below it will be easier. Because remember: every game teaches you something, from strategies to teamwork. They require a bit different thought then you would exercise during your daily work.

Step 1: Align your course goals - Setup

It may seem obvious, but even when you prepare your course for the next day you set some goals you want to accomplish. The same applies to your game. Write down your goals, make them SMART (simple, measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timebound) and divide those in smaller ones. From there on select several goals. Be careful: the more goals you select the more complex the game will become.

Step 2: Make it adaptive with complications and suspense – Concept

 A game isn’t a game if the actions you take don’t change the gameworld. Actions the player takes should impact the game and story somehow. A game isn’t much fun if the action you take result in a predefined story which doesn’t includes the action its result. A game like pacman wouldn’t be as fun if you it didn’t matter if you got eaten.

This doesn’t only make it more fun and challenging it also encourages the player to start systemic thinking because there are multiple variable to take into account. Changing any of these variables should also give some feedback, informing the player what happens. If you walk forward and die every time it wouldn’t be fun. If the player knows it dies because he falls through the hole he has to figure out how to pass it.

So start off with making your concept, describe the challenges the player should overcome.

Step 3: Make the game simple – Game mechanics

Does this conflict with step 2? Partially, the gamestory and challenges can be very complex but depending on how simple to understand the game itself is, is very important. The player who starts the game should be able to start immediately without the need to read manuals. The bar to start the actual game should be as low as possible. Build up your game’s challenges as the player progresses, you don’t start with a complex formula when your students never learnt about divisions yet.

For example, if you start playing the game Age of Empires, a strategy game in the middle ages, you start with a few buildings to play with, the more you advance the more options you receive. In the end you have a range of buildings and units to command but not directly.

Step 4: Rewarding

Make sure your players still want to play, this should be done through rewarding. For actions the player takes which are correct he should receive some reward. Such reward can be a sound, badge or satisficing story progression. The best kind of rewards are those received and contained in that magical circle, the game world. Nothing feels better then saving a bus full of children and getting their compliments rather than receiving a badge which says: “You saved the bus with children”. But this also relies on the type of task they performed.

Step 5: Find a tool and build your game

The next step after you wrote your game concept is to find the appropriate tool. There are many types of tools which allow you to create a game but as this game will be used in the classroom you should find some which allows you to easily edit, change and review your students as they progress. You need a tool capable to modify your game on the fly when you notice your students or the material doesn’t do their job as expected. A good tool for this could be InCourse. Another great tool for creating games and which is more powerful is Gamemaker but this tool lacks features for tracking students.

Step 6: Distributing it in the class

After you created your game you should start off with a few students, let them play, change the game where there are problems and when everything seems right, share it with the class. Distributing depends on the tool you used. If it’s a webbased game it’s easy to share a link so they can play on their devices in the classroom or at home.

Step 7: Review, review and review

Keep tracking your students, find problems, discuss the game with the students and keep the theory in the game up-to-date and repeat that process over and over again. If you keep the game up to date is also nicer to play.

Besides, you can always keep extending the game, adding small extensions, other paths. It’s not a shame to start small and expand the game later on. It’s very useful method and allows you to create and test game concepts quickly.

Good luck,

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