Components of a Good Serious Game #etlead

I have to admit that this class, and the whole concept of serious gaming, is becoming more interesting as I immerse in the research and games themselves.  I can totally see how a good serious game would be a great learning experience for my students.  Of course, this week’s assignment has really made me think about what kind of game I would be willing to let my students play in place of instruction in the classroom.  What does that game look like?

As I researched different criteria for serious games, I realized that there are so many different ideas for the ideal components of a serious game.  At first, I thought it would be best to keep the list short, but I soon realized that it was going to be difficult.  Here are my thoughts…

“Challenging and learning makes good games motivating and entertaining.”

-The game should be challenging, yet the tasks achievable.  Its tasks should also involve some problem solving skills that requires some higher order thinking.  This seems like the most agreed upon component.  My four-year old son is a true example of this.  There are times when he downloads a game on my iPad and immediately disregards it because he does not understand how to play.  However, he refuses to just play one of his younger sister’s games – they are boring!  I also think that the difficulty should be hierarchical, meaning it should get harder as the student progresses through the game.

-A serious game is supposed to be a learning experience as well as an entertaining one.  As an educator, this component cannot be overlooked.  All activities that are to be used in the classroom should tie to the content objectives.  Every opportunity should be a learning one.

Dr. Jim Gee says a good game encourages a gamer to be “persistent past failure.”

-There should be a goal, a task that has meaning; and the student should be able to relate the goal to his/her life experiences.  The point of an educational serious game is to enable the student to learn the content in a fun environment, but use these same skills to solve some real-world problem.  The questions most asked by my students: why do we need to know this, and when are we going to use this in our lives?  A good serious game should be able to answer these questions.  There should also be some emotional attachment to the goal so that the learning is meaningful.

-A good serious game should also encourage students to take risks.  We want our children to be willing to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.  It should not be different in the gaming world.  In fact, the gaming world makes this easier for the student because they know that the consequences are not permanent.  This also means that the game should give the students some feedback.  Students should know what kind of affect their choice is going to make on the world and those around them, without giving them the sense of complete failure.

-Finally, I think the game should involve some sort of teamwork or student collaboration.  I know there are many great games out there that are single-player.  But, I think a good serious game should involve some sort of interaction between students.  Students should be able to work with others to solve problems or accomplish a task.  This is a real-world skill that should be honed whenever possible, and what better place to do that but within a fun gaming experience.

In conclusion, the authors of a study on the evaluation of serious games ( state that a good game should be “engaging, self-reinforcing” to “motivate and educate players.”  They also said it should be “awareness raising, concept constructing, and develop a positive attitude toward sustainable issues.”


6 thoughts on “Components of a Good Serious Game #etlead

  1. garebones

    I also asked myself the question of “What does this game need to look like to take from my class lectures?”. If you are anything like me when it comes to teaching math, I have a certain amount of material I MUST get through by the end of the year in order to justify giving high school students credit. I also must get them ready for the next level of math. As an algebra II teacher, I would not be happy if algebra I students were not ready for my class and I found out they spent much needed class time playing serious games. That is the conundrum for me. How to use the serious games effectively in class so that they continue to move my students along the path of mastery of the subject area. I know, lots of learning can take place with serious games, but is it the learning needed to progress on the “math path”? I constantly struggle with athletics with this. Sure, athletics are great opportunities for students to learn lots of awesome things and skills, but what about using the quadratic formula, etc.? Sports don’t teach this, so when they are on sport trips, they miss this information, and are thus behind. I wonder if serious games can teach the theory students must know and understand to be successful in future math courses? I would love to think so, but I have yet to discover any type of serious math game that takes me in that direction. Lots of games that encourage learning in life skills, history, social science, English, etc., but only finding goofy math games for drilling basic concepts. Have you found anything that looks good in math games?

    1. bsportie Post author

      I am 100% with you. As a high school athlete myself, I understand the benefits of student participation. There are many skills that they can learn with extracurricular activities. However, when I never missed school to play sports – unless maybe during playoffs. In the village where I teach now, my students leave for the weekend, but are often stuck for days at a time because of the unstable weather along the coast. Sure, I can send work with the students/coaches, but are they really going to master a concept they have not been properly taught?

      I have not found any serious math games. Most of the games that I have found and played are exactly what you have described – goofy math games for drilling basic concepts. Even games that claim to be serious are not. At least, they don’t follow the criteria that we have listed for this classroom. The only good serious games that I have come across cover other content areas. It is rather frustrating!! But, let me ask you a question. If you found a really good problem-solving serious game, would you consider it – even if it does not cover math concepts? Aren’t problem solving skills important no matter what the concept?

      There is one math game that an educator brought to my attention and I downloaded on my iPad. Although it seems like it still just drills concepts, it does cover some algebra/pre-calculus concepts that many of my high school students find difficult. It is called Algeburst. If you have not checked it out, do so. Again, it does not fit the criteria for this classroom, but it is a good game. However, do I think I would let my students play this game in class rather than practice these same skills solving a question using higher-order thinking skills? Probably not!!

  2. aksharos

    I asked myself the same question I believe you asked yourself about which components make up a good serious game. I found the list provided by James Paul Gee to be a lengthy but noteworthy list. The long list really opened my eyes to what games have to offer. And most importantly, I agree with you that these games should be educational and that we should make sure there is a clear learning objective. For me including games with a clear learning objective is the most challenging because it requires me to modify games or search for games that can teach the subject or objective I am wanting to teach. Is there a list of games out there just for educational purposes? I found it took me awhile to look for serious games.

    Great entry! Shauna

  3. nfuerst01

    I’m interested in why you prefer collaborative games to single-player games. What is the major benefit to asking students to play team or collaboration games to single-player/independent learner games? Is there a time when each type of game is useful?

    1. bsportie Post author

      I think collaboration and teamwork are really important skills for our young adults. Most jobs in the real world require our young adults to be able to work closely with someone to complete an important task. Therefore, isn’t it important that we allow them the opportunity to master that skill now? No, a serious game does not NEED to be collaborative to be good. On the other hand, I truly believe that a GOOD, EDUCATIONAL serious game does.


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