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Games as Learning


Disciplines > Game Design > Games as Learning

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Many games have aspects of learning about them. These provide key ways in which players gain pleasure from playing the game.

The learning has to be challenging enough for the player to be stimulated, but must not be so hard that the players is unable to learn. What players seek is a continuous sequence of 'aha's and proof that they have succeeded and improved.

The learning may have no direct application in the real world but still creates skills and provides pleasure within the context of the game. The game may also be designed deliberately as a vehicle for teaching, with direct and applicable value gained from the learning during play.


A game has a leaderboard that shows players and their skill levels. a player works to go up one level every week.

A person joins a local sports team and enjoys the training and subsequent feelings of competence and success. After a couple of years they reach their natural maximum skill. A year later they give up as they are no longer getting better.

A game designer creates a game that adds new skills to learn at each level, along with new artefacts that the player can use.


The brain rewards us for two things, both of which have evolutionary benefit. First is recognizing familiar patterns, a useful skill than helps keep us alive by recognizing threats and managing our environment. Beyond this, we are rewarded for identifying new patterns and other learning that helps us cope with new situations.

Designing games that provide a continuous stream of learning that is both challenging yet not impossible for each player is a particular challenge in itself for the game designer. Different people have different knowledge and skills. They have different learning styles and learn at different rates.

One way that learning can be sustained during a computer game is to use a dynamic engine that assesses the player's learning style and ability and varies what is presented as a result. Another route is to add random elements that the player does not realize and so they think they have learned when perhaps they have not.

Explicitly telling people they have learned can help. A typical device to indicate learning is 'levels'. As you go up levels, you are assumed to be more competent, typically as the levels get progressively more difficult. Another way is the awarding of points. People with more points are assumed to have learned more.

In more traditional competitive games, people learn by finding playing partners who are at a similar level to them or who can still provide learning opportunities.

The learning that a person does can be compared with themselves, for example gaining skills or acquiring more knowledge or artefacts. Learning may also be comparative in that a person who can beat someone who used to be better than them has the added satisfaction of knowing they are learning faster than others.

Even when learning is applicable only within the game, the player gains mental stimulation and is learning to learn. Virtually any learning is hence better than no learning.

See also

Learning Theory

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