Open Thinkering


Game design, gamification, game mechanics and games-based learning.


In a couple of weeks’ time I’ll have the privilege of attending the Scottish Learning Festival (SLF). It’ll be my fourth consecutive time and one of the educational highlights of my year.

Something I’ve learned at SLF is how effectively video games can be used for learning. The main man in this regard is Derek Robertson along with the people he’s inspired.

My interest in games-based learning was piqued a little late in my teaching career to be of much use, unfortunately, but it has come in useful as a parent. My son’s favourite games at the moment are Minecraft and Little Big Planet – both games are focused on building things and being creative.

But what about me?

I enrolled recently on the Coursera Gamification course led by Kevin Werbach not really expecting much. After all, it’s just a bunch of videos and some multiple-choice quizzes, right? But I’m actually enjoying it. 10-minute videos featuring an engaging speaker suits my attention span just fine.

As a Philosophy graduate I had been intrigued by Kevin Werbach’s reference to Wittgenstein’s problem of defining what constituted a ‘game’.

I was even more intrigued when he made reference to the work of Bernard Suits that claims there are three constituent parts that make up games:

To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity [lusory attitude].

As a casual gamer I tend to play games that are easy to pick up and put down. So over the past year I’ve been playing mainly Battlefield 3 and Burnout Paradise as well as unsuccessfully curbing my 19-year addiction to Football Manager.

But the gamification course made me really think about game design and game mechanics. Instead of watching a film tonight I went looking for a new game. I came across Journey.

Oh. My. Goodness.

It took about the same amount as watching a film for me to complete. I don’t have the words to describe how magestic it was, how it managed to play with my emotions, and how cleverly-designed the overall experience felt.

There’s no explicit communication in Journey. Nor are there any written or verbal instructions. Other players who are online at the same time as you pop-up on occasion to join you for a while. There’s simultaneously endless possibilities in a vast lanscape and an unfolding narrative. The whole thing is cinematic.

At times I felt uplifted; other times confused, surprised, shocked, relieved or just happy and relaxed. It’s a game that really does play with your emotions.

The experience of playing Journey has made me reflect about not only game design, gamification, game mechanics and games-based learning but also learning itself. To my mind effective learning is about a series of impactful, memorable experiences –  and I certainly had an amazing experience playing Journey this evening!

9 thoughts on “Game design, gamification, game mechanics and games-based learning.

  1. sat next to your post in my inbox; and causes me to recollect the TV program “Why don’t you switch off the TV and go and do something else instead”. I am not quite in the anti-computergaming makes you obsessive-camp, heh there seem to be a lot of celebration of such dedication to the acquisition of ribboned badges in England and beyond right now. Further you have to admire the sheer determination of many heroes that have taken a few activities at an NHS hospital and turned them into an awesome event.

    But its not everyone’s cup of tea.

    Of course the interweb and related tech has a part to play in the 24×7 induction of our progeny – clearly toy companies such as Apple are doing exceptionally well as Nintendo (Sony, Xbox-inc ..) did before and our household spends and spends on other plastic. The niggle is echoed in the comments of the article referred to above .. in all things moderation. So I have sympathy for the Head Teachers who will need nerves of steel to resist the exhortations of the Scottish Learning Festival sponsored booths and even more for the good people who man the stands. I note in passing that academe seems to have a summer season of festivities (conferences) there is a lot to be said for a get-together that helps reflection a few weeks after the re-start of the mega-business that is education.

  2. Hi Paul, I’m not sure of your point? Are you saying screens are a bad thing if taken to excess; games-based learning uses screens; therefore games-based learning is a bad thing?

    Because if so that’s not a valid argument. 😉

    1. “Universal affirmatives can only be partially converted: all of Alma Cogan is dead, but only some of the class of dead people are Alma Cogan. ”

      Teeheehanks for reminding me about Professor Logician and all things Monty Python, the Holy Grail ….

      PS “One day lad all this will be yours – What the curtains”

  3. Journey looks beautiful and immersive. Too bad it’s a Playstation exclusive.

    I’ve largely weaned myself off of video games since being a huge PC and NIntendo gamer in the past, but I still find time to play the truly great games.

    I’ve recently taken the plunge into Starcraft 2 which has been a pretty great experience. I’ve been playing in “Campaign” mode, which is an excellent example of how to gradually introduce new concepts and skills to the player while not feeling like you’re going through a tutorial. Portal II was another example of a game that did this masterfully.

    I’m also reaching the point in the Campaign where it’s no longer a walk in the park and I’ve had to turn to YouTube videos and walkthroughs to understand how to manage my resources and build trees better.

    Many, many learning insights to take away from Starcraft 2 …

    Oh, and it brings to mind this fantastic (albeit offbeat) video review of Mega Man and how, contrary to a lot of modern games, it teaches you skills invisibly while guiding you toward increasingly difficult objectives:

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