Next Generation Learning Games (1)

Contextual Feedback in Serious Games

Evan Rushton
4 min readJul 27, 2018

I am grateful for my experience of designing learning games with GlassLab in 2014–16. Ratio Rancher is a serious game (discontinued ‘19) that develops and assesses player’s proportional reasoning. I am proud of the feedback that reinforces the mathematical ideas. For more information on dynamic difficulty and hinting, see the second post of this 2-part series.

There are three core interactions in Ratio Rancher:

  1. Feeding Pen
  2. Shipping Order
  3. Mini Game

For each interaction, players receive feedback to reinforce their proportional reasoning.

Feeding Pen

The feeding pen allows students to manipulate an array model that lines up food items for each creature to eat, and provides a concrete experience to make sense of the symbolic notation of ratios (A:B).

Each creature has a feeding ratio that players discover. When underfed, a thought bubble indicates they are still hungry; properly fed, they feel satisfied; and when overfed, they throw up.

Underfed (left), properly fed (center), and overfed (right)

Creatures have a feeding meter that fills as they eat to provide real-time feedback. Players can often predict that their ratio is correct or incorrect before the feeding animation has completed.

Shipping Order

Shipping order forms ask “how much food is required for a given number of creatures?” or, “how many creatures can be fed with a given amount of food?” Players fill out a packing slip and a shipping crate is generated.

This visual feedback gives players an opportunity to check their response. Players can only check the visual array model in advance to shipping the order thrice. Orders are automatically shipped on the fourth attempt to keep students who are randomly guessing values from completing orders.

After an order is shipped, the player receives a letter indicating the success or failure of their shipment with an indication as to whether the resulting creatures were under or over fed.

Underfed (left), properly fed (center), and overfed (right)

Mini Game

The Mini Game is an opportunity for players to compare ratios. For each target ratio, players indicate if creatures will be underfed, well fed, or overfed and immediately see if their response is correct or not. Asking players to identify the feedback for a given ratio is the inverse process from the feeding and shipping interactions where they provide the ratio and receive the feedback.

Notice that even though the correct icon is displayed when a wrong answer is submitted, it isn’t very clear why the answer was wrong. Ideally, this feedback would provide contextual clues that provide space for players to reflect on incorrect responses, and this was not implemented in the current version of the mini game. For example, it would be useful to remind students of the feeding ratio they are comparing to, how this ratio can be scaled proportionally, and how changing the ratio in either direction results in creatures being under or over fed.

The more our game mechanics directly relate to the learning goal they intend to describe, the more our feedback can be woven into the game experience.

Let me know of other serious games with contextual feedback in the comments! Questions welcome.