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A typology of educational games

A typology of educational games
A sketch of a typology of educational games from the viewpoint of the relationship between game skill and subject knowledge.

The purpose of score in games is to provide feedback and motivation. The more your score reflects your skills, the more motivated you will be to improve your skill; and the more your score reflects how much you have learned, the more motivated you will be to learn.

In the rightmost category of our typology, your learning won’t affect the score at all. This is very common in all educational games that try hard to not be “chocolate covered broccoli”. They end up as “broccoli covered chocolate” instead: traditional game genres with a superficial educational veneer. Their main flaw is that they offer absolutely no incentive to improve your knowledge – you are only motivated to improve traditional gaming skills. Of course, learning might come as a byproduct, as it might in all games, movies and novels about real subjects.

Dressed-up quizzes are the archetypical “chocolate covered broccoli”/drill-and-skill of the leftmost category. If their design is sufficiently fine-tuned, they can work very well for some subjects. They will really motivate you to learn more, but will seldom be very immersive and will thus struggle to keep your attention for long stretches.

The middle category has the most potential to tackle a diverse array of subjects and to offer real entertainment as well as real education. Note that simulation games are included in this category. They can however be considered for the leftmost category if they are very well done and if they teach you ”mastery of a process” rather than mere facts.

Ola Hansson, 27 October 2014

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