Game Based Learning – What does this mean to you?

First blog post for a while…

I started working in e-learning and games in the 90’s. During this time we have seen some amazing technical advantages and also seen some interesting advances within e-learning. In recent years games based learning or GBL has been a trend subject.

Game Based Learning does not only mean using games and hardware, game theory can be applied to e-learning design and your own resource development. Games are hugely popular across the world, the design of games does involve a development methodology and some of the elements may interest you.

For many people game based learning makes them think about brain train on their Nintendo DSi or something that is not serious. However there is another element of games and games design that is often missed – game theory. Within the development of computer games a whole range of skills are involved from creative writers, graphics designers, script writers, level designers and programmers. Here is a brief look at 4 elements of game theory that I consider when developing an e-learning or game based learning resource.

Reward

Nintendo has been using rewards within its games for several years. It you have played anyone of the super Mario titles you will be familiar with collecting golden coins as you move around the level or game. Even at the most basic skill level you can collate huge numbers of coins and you coins are freely available within the level.
As you collect coins these are converted into points or can be used within the game economy. The use of reward can also encourage the user to explore the level further in the quest for rewards. The placement of the coins can encourage exploration to areas that the user may previously have not thought of. This allows you as a designer to introduce other games elements, skills and content for those who have found them.

Within reward systems and game design Operant Conditioning is widely discussed and its principles influence many designers. This quote from gamedev.net describes it neatly

“Operant conditioning is the psychological principle that states that a person is motivated to do or not do an action based on whether they have been rewarded or punished for that action in the past. Operant conditioning principles also explain how to schedule rewards in order to maximize motivation to perform the action.”

Economy
At an end of a level users are often rewarded with their performance in terms of score. Some games also use the concept of the game economy. This allows users to ‘spend’ the reward points that they have collected. Depending on the game or resources this might be opened other levels, improving character performance or changing their appearance.

The use of an economy connects the user back to their achievements gradually, allowing them to be reward for smaller achievements and being able to receive benefit from them. In a recent e-learning course each time the learner completed the activity within each section they received a credit. Once they had completed the resource if they had the right number of credits we allowed them to play a ‘hidden’ game. This generated a buzz within the learner community who discussed how you accessed the end game. The only way to access the end game was if you had collected all of the credits. Learners were pleased about their reward at the end of the game and it generated a buzz around the learner community who also wanted to play the end game.

Recuperation
In many of the early arcade games you had 3 lives (attempts) to complete the game. For anyone of you who have played games like pitfall, nemisis, pac world or donkey kong you will remember what a challenge it was to move along the levels with only 3 lives! Recent games design has moved on, introducing the concept of health, allowing the user to continue their journey across the level even if they have made a mistake. The use of health does make the experience more realistic, increasing the game experience and encourages gamers to consider their actions in game.

Whilst it is still possible to lose all of your health, you may also have the opportunity to get additional health points back, often by completing a challenge. This allows the user to continue their game experience, stay engaged and learn about how their actions will affect their experience.
The game Gauntlet was one of the first games to use the concept of health to allow games to lose health and remain in game. It also allowed gamers to create health points as they moved through the level. This is a an interesting game to review as it was a game that could be played with up to 4 people sharing skill and health points to complete the level.

Problem Solving

The games industry has created games such as tetris and brain training that have all been involved around problem solving. However problem solving is a key element of all games from sports titles to simulations. The problem solving is gradual to allow the learner to develop their skills and then be presented with larger challenges as the game develops.

From my perspective I have been interested to see how internet based games have brought people together to play online games together and solve problems.  Users will come across a rule or problem which is stopping progress, with other gamers then can create a strategy or discuss tactics. From this then can then develop a solution that allows them to more forward.

I have reviewed and studied many games to see how they have encourage groups of users to come together to solve problems and I’ve used many of these techniques in my own work. One of the early multi-player  arcade game was called Gauntlet and it needed players to work together to reach the end of the stage. The game could be played on your own but it was a much rich and immersive experience when you added other users.

There is so much to game based learning and games design, you might have a different view. For me it involves taking elements of game design, game theory and development to enrich any e-learning resource, not just a ‘serious’ game.

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