Game Based Learning

According to BigFish games, 58% of Americans play video games, with 68% of that population older than 18. In fact, the average age of a video gamer is 35 – a key demographic we’d all like to include in our association’s ranks, right? Why are games so popular, and how can we leverage game based learning for associations?

Like any effective learning project, it’s critical to define your audience and determine if gamification is a good fit. Game developers like Ubisoft, Activision, Blizzard spend millions of dollars on research to learn what game play elements engage which demographic. This research can also be invaluable in helping decide what game styles would be most likely to attract and engage your target demographic.Chances are if you’re part of the 58%, you know how powerful games are. Games create a sense of “flow” – a concept coined by theorist Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “Chick sent me high”). This flow state gives us a high degree of focus and engagement. Csikszentmihalyi believed that this flow state makes our minds more receptive to learning new ideas and concepts. So, it’s no surprise that so many associations are exploring game-based learning experiences for their members.

This post is derived from The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell, who teaches at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. If you’re interested in how to create extremely effective games – for learning or otherwise, I highly recommend it.

Here is some research around which game elements are more attractive to men and women, along with some tips on how to include these features within your learning. You may be able to use this list to better target your demographic and create more game-like engagement, without the time and expense of producing a full game-based learning experience.

Demographics – Men are from Mars…

Here are the top 3 game features more tailored to male players:

  1. Mastery – while women want to achieve mastery of relevant tasks, men seem to be driven to master any challenge, regardless of the context. Badging works well here, allowing male players to achieve the highest levels. If there’s a way to promote this player’s achievement publicly, even better.
  2. Competition – men want to compete, and leaderboards are a great way for players to see how they’re ranked against others. We’ve created “faux leaderboards” where players compete against computer generated scores that aren’t even real players! It doesn’t matter. Male players want a challenge, so motivating them with “scores to beat” is very effective.
  3. Trial and Error – As Schell mentions, men hate reading directions and would rather just drive! So offer game approaches that allow skipping instruction, so male players can learn by doing (and failing, then doing again). And it’s unnecessary to include buttons in the interface labeled “maps,” because you just know that men would never click on those!

Women are from Venus

If your association is composed of more women, here are game styles that appeal to that demographic:

  1. Emotion – generally speaking, women seem to be more motivated by emotion. Consider weaving stories or scenarios throughout your game, where female player can emotionally connect with the players and situations.
  2. Real world – Schell reminds us that when we were kids, boys played cowboys while girls played house. Women tend to want to connect with relevant, relatable, real-world experiences. Consider grounding your learning game in the real-world, with realistic situations that connect the gameplay back to relevant content and learning objectives.
  3. Nurturing – yes, this is a stereotype. But often stereotypes exist because there is some evidence to support the generalization. In general, women are more nurturing, so consider game types that enable players to connect with other players, perhaps allowing them to provide advice or help a non-playing character solve a problem. Teaching others is one of best ways learners can master content, themselves.
  4. Learning by example – unlike men, who tend to want to start driving to some destination without asking direction, women tend to be stronger planners and will turn to tutorials and case studies for assistance in solving a problem. This “pull-based” learning approach might enable players to access external resources outside of the learning experience, then solve problems once they feel ready.

While there are many factors to consider when designing a gamification experience, a very important first step is to target your membership. Will the audience for this gamification experience be primarily male or female? How can I leverage these game styles to create an effective learning experience, based on the learning objectives?

One important note: these descriptions are generalizations. The age of the player is as important as the gender. In future posts, we’ll discuss some of the game types most attractive, based on player’s ages. When you map these considerations, along with gender, you would have an even more precise analysis.  However, you may want to consider creating an early prototype – perhaps even just in PowerPoint. Then, do some informal feedback testing from a sample of your own demographic.  Players will definitely let you know what they like, so even informal focus groups can be very helpful in deciding on your association’s gaming strategy.

If you’d like to learn about game based learning from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.

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