April 13-17, 2010
Denver, Colorado, USA

Workshops: Description

Rules of Play: Designing Addictive Gameplay for Online Learning Games

David Schaller, eduweb, USA

Over the past decade, games have grown as both a commercial industry, as a field for scholarly research, and as a practical medium for teaching and learning. Inspired by a broad array of research emphasizing the effectiveness of problem-based, anchored instruction, developers have been creating games about subjects ranging from childhood obesity to electoral politics to personal finance. Even former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has embraced games as a way to teach civics to schoolchildren. Games have definitely come of age as tools for teaching and learning.

But we still need to understand how to make learning games fun. For that, we must learn about game design. Given the breadth and depth of this topic, this workshop focuses on a handful of game mechanics that help us move from the kinds of "game-like" interactives commonly found on museum Web sites into the realm of true games. With a firm understanding of these mechanics, we can design online games that incorporate our content and create compelling, even addicting learning experiences for our audiences.


1. Introduction: Why all games are learning games

Discuss the cognitive theory behind games. Compare commercial and learning games, discuss the value of game genres.

2. What makes games fun?

Discuss the pleasures that games provide (fantasy, anticipation, possibility, challenge, discovery, surprise, etc.).

3. Game mechanics

Discuss six game mechanics: space, rules, objects, actions, skills, and chance.

Examine how rules create emergent gameplay. Compare real skills and virtual skills. Explore the ways that randomness makes players feel powerful instead of helpless. Compare these game mechanics with those in typical game-like museum interactives.

4. Design Exercise

Breaking into groups of 3-4, explore game mechanics by modifying a simple paper-based learning game. Regrouping, discuss the impact of simple changes and how they affect gameplay.

5. Meaningful choices

Explore techniques to provide meaningful choices and consequences without creating cumbersome branching storylines.

6. Design Exercise

Breaking into small groups, redesign a familiar game to make the choices more meaningful.

7. Balancing the gameplay

Analyze game balance: challenge vs. success; mental vs. physical gameplay; rewards vs. punishment, skill vs. chance.

8. Design Exercise

Breaking into small groups, tweak the balance of a familiar game until it is unbalanced in at least one way.

9. Beyond the game

Discuss ways to leverage gameplay experience to consolidate learning beyond the game (online forums, onsite connections, etc.)

Open forum for additional questions and discussion.

Workshop: Online Games [Morning]

Keywords: online games, learning games, educational games, game design, game mechanics