Gaming and Learning go Hand in Hand

Gaming and education has been trying to come together for many years. Today we’re going to look at how gaming can be applied to a popular teaching structure: Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy breaks up various categories of knowledge into different areas.

One of the parts of Bloom’s Taxonomy is the six cognitive domains: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. The first three are considered lower level learning and are often covered first in games: what are the game controls?

You need to know that right away and games have found very elegant ways to solve this teaching problem, most effectively is the showing not telling with pictures put into the world but even just post a message to the screen. Many AAA games are very quick to keep these to a minimum since this is a quick way to get the information across but it breaks immersion in the game. As games have evolved, we’ve looked at better ways to deliver these “rules of the game world” and how you interact with it. The key was has been to deliver it in piecemeal over the course of the game. It’s also not delivered as “now you have to learn this”, whenever possible games try to phrase it as, “You have this new super power! Here’s how it works in two sentences or less.” Then the player is put in a situation where they have to use the new superpower to get out of it. Done well, there is no penalty for failing at this point but rather just an obstacle that can only be gotten past by using this new super power. This forces the player to test out and learn this new skill. All they need to do is remember the instructions, understand them, and then apply them to this problem.

Now here’s the key: In the context of games, rather than saying “You must defeat these bad guys only by using a special gun. Use the new superpower.” Game designers often use the story of the game to drive the motivation and put the test as a way to build tension. For example, You just snuck in and stole the supergun. You have an awesome new power! But you triggered the alarm and now a bunch of bad guys are coming after you. What the game hasn’t told you is that the bad guys use special tactics or have a special armour that can only be defeated by using the supergun. You’ll have to try it out.

Simply either wanting to survive or avoiding to reload is good motivation. Too many edutainment games in the 80’s and 90’s got stuck on this style of learning. Whether it was answering 100 questions to advance your character two feet or peppering your game with math questions, the feeling of being grilled in math class or history class was too prevalent. There weren’t moments of control for the player. They were just being put through endless rote “solve this, answer this” moments.

However, the more valuable learning lessons are the higher level learning lessons of analyzing, evaluating, and creating. These are much more useful and it’s more engaging to give people the higher level learning lessons. Mainstream games tend to push people towards this style of decision making. Decision making that is interesting but still relies on the basic lower level learning methods in order to make the decision.

For instance, in Fallout you must decide how to enter a building (front or back) and whether you are going to sneak up on enemies, be bold and shoot them first, talk to them or run away. You need to analyze the situation, create a possible solution and then as you run it through you evaluate how successful it is and decide if you’ll use the same strategy or modify it for the next building.

Some teachers have found Minecraft to be a great way to solve this edutainment problem of rote and shift it into higher level lessons by framing a problem, a quest if you will, for the students to perform. It’s a large higher-level problem that supports the mission briefing of the class that explained the basic rule to learn (addition, measuring, what have you). One possible quest has been to build a house together that is 100 square feet large (with each cube being a foot in the game) and 25 feet/cubes tall. Now they have a motivation to use their math skills to figure out if their house is 100 square feet, how large it would have to be, and how tall it is. They also have a safe space to work (the teacher can turn off enemies during the class-time) where the challenge has been simplified (no worries about plumbing or electrical systems here) and then when class is over they can turn monsters back on and enjoy the reward of seeing how their work holds up to the enemies in the Minecraft world.

You may think, but how do I get them to practice a skill over and over? In constructing things there are often little repetitive tasks you can find, build 10 different houses or use 10 different columns, etc. Make them map it out first so that when they go into the world they have a map that they made to help them build the house.

So why are games great for education? Because games are all about motivating people to do things in an engaging way and education often leaves people picturing a room of kids sitting in a room learning stuff they don’t want to learn. So give them a higher level purpose. Give them reasons why. Make it engaging and thoughtful. Then they will want to learn the simpler, boring stuff because it will help them achieve their higher goal.

Steven Pugh, Producer and Game Designer

Originally published at

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