The Gamer’s Wish List: Lessons from game design

Gamification and game-based learning – two of the hottest terms in the world of learning today. (TeachThought has a nifty article that explains the difference between the two.)

For non-gamers, and even for those of us who are passionate about our games, the terms seem to be hidden in a fog of vague concepts, like “game theory” and “game mechanics”. Concrete examples are hard to come by; the only one mentioned with any frequency is a reward or points system. But there is so much more that instructional designers can learn from the world of gaming, especially when it comes to the learner experience.

Over the next several blog posts, I’ll share some of my personal pet peeves or a-ha moments that I think can help designers shape better user experiences. Feel free to agree or disagree, or send me some suggestions in the comments.


Wish 1: Allow me to experience little successes on my way to bigger achievements.  

Let’s start with the example that is always mentioned in the same breath with gamification: a reward or achievement system. While all games have a single overarching goal – defeat Bowser, win all the races, stop the moon from crashing into Termina  – many games also include smaller, easier to obtain objectives. In my experience, there have been three major types of these achievements:

  1. Collecting: In some cases, these objectives are simple collection efforts with a moderate payout. Collect 50 gold rings in the Sonic games, and you are rewarded with an extra life. Kill 10 gold skulltulas in Ocarina of Time to get a bigger wallet. And so on.
  2. Extra levels and mini games: Some reward a particular accomplishment with additional game content. Earn enough gold trophies in Mario Kart, and you unlock additional courses that were not available to you at the beginning of the game.
  3. Pride, not prize: Achievements sometimes have no reward, other than being able to check the achievement off the list. Sometimes game developers add these specifically to drive you to portions of the game you might not otherwise explore. Most modern games take advantage of the achievement system in some way.

The one thing all of these reward systems have in common is that they keep the player engaged, even when they are slogging through otherwise frustrating or not that interesting aspects of the game. It gives the player a little bit of a break while keeping them in the game, sometimes encouraging them to replay areas they’ve already completed.

Can you imagine a learner voluntarily re-taking part of an eLearning course, just to complete an achievement? What if your safety course included a challenge to find all the hazards hiding in the background of your course images? A learner who only found 9 of 10 may be tempted to review the entire course just to find the last one.

The trick to these achievement systems is to remember to reward the learner. And remember, the reward doesn’t have to be big. Pride is sufficient, if you give them a way to brag about it. Does your organization favor completion certificates? Print an icon on the certificate commemorating the achievement. Instructor-led class? Snack-sized candy bars go a long way, even with adults.

However you decide to keep your users engaged, remember to make the achievements attainable, and the rewards appropriate to the challenge. Otherwise, you’ll just add to their frustration.

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Posted in gaming, learning, UX
One comment on “The Gamer’s Wish List: Lessons from game design
  1. […] The Gamer’s Wish List: Lessons from game design […]

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