GAME model of educational game design

27 December 2011 10,074 views 8 Comments

There is a general agreement among researchers that games, when used properly, can be a useful educational tool, providing important narrative context for learning (Dondlinger, 2007). However, there is no accepted design framework that successfully combines instructional design theory and game design (Kiili, 2005). (Note: Although this quote is from 2005, a review of the literature has not turned up anything to dispute this statement). Most research to date has focused on efficacy, rather than prescribing implementation (Van Eck, 2006).

While theoretical models have been proposed by Quinn (1994), Amory and Seagram (2003), and Kiili (2005), all of these models focus on explaining the theoretical underpinnings rather than providing a guide that can be used in practice for game development (Kiili, 2007). What I will attempt to do in this post is to begin outlining a practical framework for iterative educational game design that incorporates best practices in instructional design, as well as general game design principles.

The model I propose is called the GAME model of educational game design. GAME stands for Goals – Activities – Mechanics – Environment. These are the four basic steps required for this process, in order of importance – with the caveat that since design is an interative process (Lohr, 2008) this is not a linear recipe.

1) Goals
Identify your learning goals; write up a list of instructional objectives for the game. There are 4 steps, which can be remembered using the acronym DATA:

  • Determine instructional needs – why do we need to create this game? What should players be able to do that currently are not?
  • Analyze learners – who will the players be and where will they be playing? Do they have any special learning considerations or characteristics?
  • Task analysis – what should players be able to do when they’ve mastered the game?
  • Assessment analysis – how will we know that players have acquired the necessary skill?

2) Activities
Define learning activities (things you would do in the classroom with students) that support the learning goals. Map these to game activities that can be used to create gameplay that will support the learning goals.

3) Mechanics
Choose gameplay mechanics that allow the player to perform the game activities. There should be enough different mechanics to keep gameplay from becoming repetitive, but not too many that they’re hard to keep track of. Players should be spending time learning the game content, not how to play the game.

4) Environment
Design a game environment (game world) that support the chosen mechanics, provides engaging gameplay scenarios, and supports a game narrative that places the learning content within the game context.

In my next few posts I will go into more detail on each step in the GAME design process, starting with defining Goals.

Amory, A. & Seagram, R. (2003). Educational game models: conceptualization and evaluation. South African Journal of Higher Education, 17, 206–217.

Dondlinger, M. J. (2007). Educational Video Game Design : A Review of the Literature. Journal of Applied Educational Technology, 4(1), 21-31.

Kiili, K. (2005). Digital game-based learning: towards an experiential gaming model. The Internet and Higher Education, 8, 13–24.

Kiili, K. (2007). Foundation for problem‐based gaming. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(3), 394-404. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00704.x

Lohr, L. (2008). Creating graphics for learning and performance: lessons in visual literacy (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Quinn, C. N. (1994). Designing educational computer games. In K.Beattie, C.McNaught & S.Wills (Eds), Interactive multimedia in university education: designing for change in teaching and learning (pp. 45–57). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Van Eck, R. (2006). Digital Game-Based Learning: It’s not just the digital natives who are restless. Educause, March/April.

Elisa teaches online professional development courses for teachers at
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