Thoughts On How To Create a Learning Game

When I am asked the question, “Where do you come up with ideas for learning games.” The first response I give is “From games I’ve played. You’ve got to play games to make games.” It seems simple but think about it. Learning-game design is a bit like writing a book: Most authors read hundreds or even thousands of books before they ever attempt to write one. They become terrific readers before they become good writers. Similarly, to design a strong learning game, you start by playing and evaluating lots of different games.

Why play games? Here are some reasons why it’s important to play games if you want to design games. Playing games helps you

  • Identify what makes games fun—or not—for the target audience. To maximize your learning experience in this step, play games that do and do not include you as the target audience. You often won’t be designing a learning game that is targeted to you, so explore games designed to appeal to a wide array of personalities and interests.
  • Learn the lingo of games. This includes how various game design elements are used to keep players engaged.
  • Get ideas on game elements, rules, and dynamics to use. Playing games will likely trigger ideas of how you could use their concepts within a learning game. There is a reason that so many Jeopardy! clones exist in classrooms: Most people have watched Jeopardy! on TV and enjoy it. It’s an easy game to mimic when designing a workshop and creating a recall activity. However, you can go well beyond Jeopardy! if you take the time to play different games.
  • Learn what’s possible. By playing games, you’ll learn to recognize different game formats and types, such as board games, card games, dice games, PC games, console games, mobile games, experiential games, improv games, roleplaying games, games of chance, and games of strategy. The world of games is massive; exploring a wide array of game types will dramatically expand your ability to brainstorm ideas and be creative in your designs.

So your homework assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to go play some games. It will definitely make you a better game designer.

NOTE: Content adapted from the book Karl co-authored with Sharon Boller titled “Play to Learn: Everything You Need to Know About Designing Effective Learning Game”

By Karl M. Kapp, learning game designer, author of several books on game and game design and advisement board member to Enterprise Game Stack.

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