Next Generation Learning Games (part 2)

Dynamic Hinting in Serious Games

Evan Rushton

I learned to work with a variety of experts with GlassLab in 2015. Part of my job was to teach them how learning works. While it is true that feedback on performance drives learning (part 1), there is something about learners making sense for themselves that is another driver. As Dan Meyer so eloquently stated in late July,

Make yourself more interested in the sense that your students are making rather than the sense they aren’t making. Celebrate and build on that sense.

One way to try to understand what sense players are making in the video game medium is to gradually lower the difficulty until they are successful. Dynamic difficulty can be accomplished in many ways. Dynamic hinting is when we provide hints that allow players to advance in the game. Rather than making a cut-scene that explains a concept or a new and easier challenge; a hint alters the game-state in such a way to shed some light on a common solution strategy.

In Ratio Rancher (free w/ login), when a player is unsuccessful with a challenge, they are required to successfully complete challenges at a similar level of difficulty before advancing. During development we found that this dynamic difficulty system was not giving players enough space to make sense of the shipping challenges. We needed to figure out a way to give hints to players who would rage quit.

To scaffold the shipping experience, if players get their initial order incorrect they receive a hint of the correct feeding ratio as a translucent overlay on their next attempt. This provides a visual cue to trigger the thinking: how can I scale that ratio to meet the requested amount?

If the first hint is unsuccessful and the player still doesn’t succeed on shipping, the requested amount is displayed in the array model and a player need only count how much of the other quantity is missing.

First hint: feeding ratio given (left), Second hint: correct array given (right)

In order for players who seem “unmotivated” to learn the mathematics of a learning game, we as developers need to provide them with opportunities to make sense of whatever it is they aren’t getting. Ideally, we can probe what they are thinking and respond accordingly.

Other learning games with dynamic hinting include Slice Fractions and their creators speak on it in this video, if you took the time to read this post, you’d probably love that interview.

Evan Rushton

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Embrace Mistakes | Live to Learn | Love to Teach

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