Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why Instructional Designers Should Play Games?

This post is written by Rupa Rajagopalan

Has it happened with you that you saw a movie and wondered how the director visualized the amazing scenes?

Has it also happened that you checked out an e-learning course and wondered how the Instructional Designer thought of the visuals, animations and interactivities?

Well, it has happened with me an umpteen number of times. I just keep thinking what gets into people’s heads that they think so creatively.

Designing E-learning course just like movie making requires lot of creativity and innovation. An Instructional Designer has to visualize every screen of an e-learning course and get the graphic designers and programmers in the team to implement it exactly the way he/she visualized.

Doesn’t this remind you of a movie director, who visualizes every scene of a movie and gets his actors to enact it exactly the way he visualized?

The Instructional Designer has to work with the available content, strategize and present the content in such a way that it appears new and interests the learners.

The movie director has to work with common themes and strategize to present the theme in such a fashion that it appears new and interesting to the audience.

Now both the Instructional Designer and the Movie Director have to be really good at visualizing. This is critical both to the movie and the e-learning course.

What do you think a movie director does to improve his visualization skills?

Watch a lot of movies, read novels, etc.

Now what do Instructional Designers to do work on their visualization skills?

Check out other e-learning courses and what else?

Apart from checking out and analyzing e-learning courses, an Instructional Designer must also play a lot of games.

Most people think playing games is a waste of time. But then it is not true for an Instructional Designer at least.

Just as in a game, visuals and interactivities are crucial to an e-learning course too.

So here I list the three reasons why Instructional Designers should play games

Three Reasons Why Instructional Designers Should Play Games

Reason 1: Games have loads of visual strategies

I seriously believe games give you lot of visual strategies much more than any other sources. If you keep playing games, you get an opportunity to see different visual designs and then when you get to design e-learning courses you can use similar ideas.

For example the other day I had gone to Subway and I really hated the sandwich the chef out there made. I thought he was not trained. He did not know the combination of sauces that would make the sandwich taste good.

And then I thought of this as a business case for e-learning. Suppose Subway management decides to go for an e-learning course for all chefs in Subway. Let’s say the management wants something visually appealing, something interactive and engaging.

I could just visualize the following:

Virtual customers, virtual kitchen and virtual ingredients. Customers order a customized sandwich. The chefs drag and drop the ingredients on the sandwich in the right combination depending on customer requirements. For every correct sandwich they gain points. For every wrong sandwich they lose points. The chefs' objective is to gain maximum points by making right sandwiches.

If it is a low budget course, you can use just images and simple animations. If budget is not a constraint, this can be a simulation.

Now this strategy is inspired by games as follows:


You could use this strategy when learners have to learn something by rote.

The bottom line is to identify good strategies while playing games and use in e-learning.

Reason 2: Games show ways in which you can encourage audience participation

Most games require mouse clicks or pressing arrow keys. But then it doesn’t get monotonous because the context and objective of the game is different every time. In the given context the whole act of clicking and pressing gets very interesting and exciting. When you play games you get to know how to use existing interactivity models in different contexts and for different purposes.

For example in the game called Dreams, you simply click to find the differences between the two images as shown below:


The interactivity model used above is simple and basic, yet the objective and context of the game makes the play interesting.

Likewise in the game below, you just have to mouse over the faces that show up. The challenge of the game is to mouse over maximum faces that show up within a time limit.


As you start playing the game you get addicted to it.

The bottom line is when you play games you get to know how to innovate on existing interactivity models.

Reason 3: Games show ways in which you can engage the audience

People love playing games and they get so engrossed that they forget time. Games can just engage anyone and everyone. So what is it in a game that engages people?

The answer is simple. It is the challenge in the game that engages audience. People want to badly reach the objective of the game and this sustains their interest.

I guess e-learning courses must also have this element of challenge which will engage the learners during the learning process and games will give you ideas on how to make your e-learning courses challenging.

With this I end my post here and leave it open for discussion

Please check out some online games here and let me know what you think:

Big Fish Games


Ken Allen on January 6, 2010 at 3:58 PM said...

Submitted on 2009/01/23 at 4:16pm

Kia ora Rupa!

You have asked a huge question here: “what is it in a game that engages people?”

You say it is simply the challenge. I have a feeling that it’s much more than that, and I’m not so sure that any part of it is as simple as you make it to be.

My hunch is that we could have a whole spectrum of different games - game types if you like - and that accompanying those we also have different reasons why people find them engaging.

If we can remove ourselves from virtual games for a moment, and look at common games people engage in. Tennis, it is true, presents a challenge as does darts. But these games incur a physical component that is absent in a game such as Poker or Bridge, both of which are played with a standard 52 pack of playing cards. Poker also presents a challenge. Some of this is the element of what we call luck.

This element of luck is severely removed from the arena when playing a complete rubber of Bridge. Yet it is the element of luck that pulls some people to play Poker. In Bridge, however, there is the element of strategy, and while there is strtegy in poker, it is of a different calibre from that used in Bridge. Both of those games actually invoke considerable intellectual interest on the part of the player, a component that is more difficult to recognise in a game of tennis or darts. It’s there in tennis or darts, but again it is of a different calibre.

A party game of charades has quite a different mix of elements again. There is a strong social element that is perhaps not so prevalent in tennis, or poker for that matter, but could well be present in a game of darts.

I play Civilization (Sid Meier’s). My daughter plays Sims. Both these games have a strong element of fantasy. Although they simulate reality in many respects, there is also a certain mytique associated with the games - I suspect that entering Second Life will present even more of this element to the player.

All of the games elements I’ve summarised here are capable of engaging the player in the game. I believe there are as many separate engaging elements in games as there are in life itself - if you consider all the different hobbies, vocations, missions etc.

In using the concept of a game to engage learners in an instructional resource it is important to select those elements of engagement that are appropriate to the learning in an engaging way. Often the intellectual level of the learning objective can be taken into account when doing this but not always. Indeed, the simpler elements of an intellectual concept can often lend themselves to their use in a game, designed to engage the learner at the right level and with appropriate subject material.

I feel that it is also very important to know the target group for instruction, so that game activities can be chosen that are appropriate to the level of that group.

The challenge that you refer to is an exceedingly broad aspect of all games. For many participants who we as instructors try to engage in learning activities, this challenge has to be presented in such a way that the participants accept it. Often this is done through the use of the other elements that I refer to here. So that the challenge of poker to a willing poker player is different from the challenge of darts to a dart player or the challenge of preserving and growing a civilization to someone who is playing Sid Meier’s intellectual game CIV.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

Rupa Rajagopalan on January 6, 2010 at 3:59 PM said...

Submitted on 2009/01/23 at 4:30pm

Hi Ken, thanks a lot for adding in all missing points. I appreciate this

Ken Allen on January 6, 2010 at 4:01 PM said...

Submitted on 2009/01/24 at 7:14am

Kia ora Rupa!

These points are only my perception of what’s missing :-)

Check out Public Pedagogy Through Games.

Catchya later

Resham Mukherjee (on Facebook) said...

I agree. From my personal experience, playing games has not only helped me design some good learning material, but also some good games. It has also opened up my mind to more logical thinking because whenever I play a game, I've been taught to dig deep, observe the game mechanics, and understand the game play.

Ashish Prasad (on Facebook) said...

I completely agree here...human mind reacts and responds better to challenge and reward, and that's what games do. It teaches our mind to practice, form patterns and build solutions on our own.

Entertainment + Learning = Always Interesting
:). I now try and use this in forming advertising solutions too wherever i can.

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