Leveraging game mechanics to extend game-based learning

Updated: Aug 12, 2019

Game-based learning has the potential to deliver on 3 fronts; through the experience, through the subject and through the mechanics of the game itself. Of the three, the mechanics offer a significantly untapped resource for extended understanding.


Firstly, looking at the experience. This generally supporting soft skill development and reinforcement. The experience of playing the game, the social interactions and dynamics can all be seen in terms of leadership, team-work, communication and etc. The interaction between the players may well be seen as a reward in itself, independent of any extrinsic reward construct designed to deliver a winner. The experience goes beyond solely playing the game. It encompasses the process of learning how to play and in many cases, this step can establish an initial inferred hierarchy between the players, based on perceived understanding and ability.


Looking at the subject matter, artwork and content of the game, we discover additional learning that should be translatable from the game world to the real world. This is where knowledge and understanding enter the mix. It can be fact based (written statements and quizzes), associative, or it can deal with more complicated concepts and processes represented through the interaction of a number of game element. When dealing with concepts and processes we enter the realm of simulations where there may be an added need for trainer-lead discovery and debate during and after the game session.


The mechanics employed by the game designer to regulate play contain the third, largely untapped, area of learning and has a number of levels to consider.

The game mechanics drive the experience and can be used as a means of tailoring that experience to suit the session. This tailoring can be the same for all players or differ on an individual basis, both in terms of offering asymmetric game-play (though assigning different strengths and weaknesses) and in terms of modifying the success criteria to explore how these influence the players' approach to the game.

Extending this, the game mechanics can be the subject of debate and discussion after the game session where the trainer asks the students how they think certain changes would affect the experience. For example, would a certain adjustment make it easier or harder to make a decision.

Taking this even further, the understanding the game mechanics can lead to improvements in the real world systems that may not have otherwise been considered.

Whilst potentially very rewarding, fully exploiting the learning derived from the game mechanics is no easy matter. To get the most from this area requires understanding of both the specific training needs and the game mechanics, perhaps best delivered through a level of co-operation or partnership between the game designer and the trainer. The benefit with this approach is a flexible, adaptable teaching resource that really meets the needs of the student.