In my last article, I described a reversed process for connecting emotionally with an audience. Similarly, in my research reports, "The Merging of Entertainment and GBL" and "Facing Edutainment's Dark Legacy," published on Games + Learning, I approached learning games from another point of view, namely entertainment. Rather than gamifying learning, we would be, in the words of Kuato Studios, engaged in "learnification."
What does this mean? As I mentioned in my chapter on serious games in the book, Writing for Video Game Genres, subject matter experts are under no obligation to make the material "fun." Often times, an educational game developer is given a set list of learning outcomes that need to be covered. However, creating a game straight from a lesson plan may lead to poor gameplay. If the game's not fun, then how is it going to get kids to play?
Prioritizing education over entertainment may not be the answer, but the reverse, prioritizing entertainment over education, may be the key.
It's ironic, but true: Like I wrote previously, "Kids would rather play an entertainment title over an educational one, even if that entertainment game makes them learn astrophysics."
Hence, "learnification" is about ensuring an enjoyable game has teachable moments. I find that it's also important to note that one game may not be able to hit all of the listed learning outcomes. It helps to focus in on what's the most important point to be conveyed in this game and make sure the gameplay reinforces this point.
So, while gamification may have its merits, "learnification" may get better results. Just remember, if our intention is to have kids play learning games to learn, then first the kids have to want to play the game.
Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.