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The Megatrends of Game Design, Part 2
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The Megatrends of Game Design, Part 2

November 5, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

Megatrend V - Gaming as a Teaching Tool

Educational games: a novelty in the video game industry? Academically-themed games aimed at younger kids are nothing new and are not a "megatrend". However, pedagogic multimedia products targeted at high school and college students, or even adults, will no doubt be part of a future development path for our industry. Why?

Many teachers will confirm the increasing difficulties involved in grabbing the attention of today's youth. Under constant bombardment by a torrent of stimuli, their attention span has shrunk to the point where concentrating on any one subject for any significant length of time can be a Herculean task -- particularly when a subject is daunting!

Some have had the idea to use video gaming as an academic complement. This type of media has the advantage of being at the heart of teenage leisure, and its nature is well-adapted to the best of mankind's teaching mechanisms: experimentation. Many businesses have started down this challenging road, such as the American firm pullUin.

What forms will these games take? Some academic subjects can often be easily translated into games. Let us consider a few examples:

Economic sciences. Their mechanisms are well-adapted to this exercise, since they apply to a concrete universe which we all know. Management games can be used to support or illustrate theories of international trade, interactions between supply and demand, or the disruption of competition caused by a monopoly.

Mathematics and physics. Despite their highly abstract natures, these sciences have in fact been invented to solve truly concrete problems, such as the building of aqueducts by the Romans. We can imagine interactive illustrations: the launching of a rocket into orbit, or a game with a catapult to illustrate vectors.

Biology. The mechanical characteristic of the inner workings of a cell, and therefore of any living organism, can be emulated by construction games such as the famous The Incredible Machine.

Sierra's The Incredible Machine

What game design?

Though the ultimate purpose of these interactive products is not gaming for its own sake, game design rules should still be applied with the same care exercised in designing a more traditional video game. Here are a few such rules to keep in mind:

  • A theme suitable for the targeted audience, particularly regarding age groups
  • Game objectives that are simple to understand, and that offer true fulfillment (new features)
  • The availability of tools (game features) allowing the player to reach his goal
  • The development of an environment with consistent rules and behavior
  • The progressive discovery of the use and limits of the available tools through experimentation
  • An intuitive interface inspired by standards expected by players
  • A feedback mechanism allowing the player to assess his progress
  • An appropriate handling of difficulty, pace and replay value.

However, such applications will also need to include specific features unique to their academic function:

  • A deep tutorial mechanism for explaining each feature available to the player. To avoid falling into bloated text explanations, the tutorial segments themselves should be interactive.
  • An auto-exam module allowing the student to test his acquired knowledge, comparing these results to teachers' expectations.
  • A module for exchange and communication between players/students, to allow for cooperation between themselves, as well as with the teacher.
  • An eventual link with the applications developed for the new interactive whiteboards we are starting to see in classrooms.


Ambitious and complex to develop, these game-based academic tools will also need to find their target market -- from teachers to parents itching to help their children -- and, consequently, suitable distribution channels.

The rapid development of distance learning in the United States -- and therefore soon in Europe -- may yet create the perfect environment for these products. The Nintendo DS has also shown its potential as a platform for teaching applications. 

The gaming approach to these academic applications may yet become a powerful commercial argument for newcomers on the education market -- one of the flagship markets of our civilization of knowledge.

Next article

I shall address only one Megatrend: multiplayer gaming and its far-reaching impact on our industry.

Previous articles

The Megatrends of Game Design, part 1

Physics in Game : A New Frontier

Multiplayer level design, part 1

Multiplayer level design, part 2

Multiplayer level design, part 3

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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