How to make a fun, educational game?

The gamification of education is fun and rewarding. Participants in educational games learn new things, develop social skills and have fun.

In the new material, we compiled a guide for those who want to introduce game mechanics into the educational process. In it, we show you how to design a fun educational game, get participants involved, organize your space, and make it safe to play.

What are educational games?

Educational games take place offline. The audience is often schoolchildren, and professional teachers become the leaders. The venues may vary: for example, an educational game can be played in the classroom, the forest, or the street.

In the game, it is necessary to establish rules, goals, and specific roles for the participants. It should be understood that training of this kind is often presented in a symbolic format, and in this case, it is necessary to distribute the roles for the players separately.

The stages of the game are no less important – entry, main process, exit, and reflection after. You can enter the game as if you were in space – for example; sometimes participants pass through a kind of portal made up of tables and chairs. Leaving the game is also important: participants can symbolically burn the name tags they used in a fire or exit back through the portal.

How to arrange a play area

The game’s space can be very different – a clearing in the forest, a room, a corridor. As soon as the participant crosses the border, he is in the game. The exit can also be built on direct physical interaction: the participant steps over the boundary – and the game ends for him.

“There is a form like a labyrinth, with the active use of space. In this game, the choice of each participant is very important: a group can walk through the maze, but it is not fixed – a person can leave the group, join another, or make his own specific private choice. Participants constantly unite and disperse.

I need to work with space: suddenly, the walls, floor, and ceiling come to life, I am in this unusual place and begin to interact with it – I go through my path, during which connections with other participants are built.”

How to create a valuable and exciting educational game 

In informal pedagogy, much attention is paid to the atmosphere – sounds, smells, and objects. You can turn on the music, turn off the lights, and arrange the tables outside the box. It is worth stepping into such a space – and you immediately begin to immerse yourself in the game when something does not go according to the usual scenario.

“A vivid example from a colleague who teaches English. The guys enter the space, passing through the tunnel under the tables, where they manage to reincarnate (it is worth mentioning that this method works well for younger students, but not so with older ones). After passing through a magical tunnel, they find themselves in a space where everyone speaks only English. It works like a portal: at the end of the session, they go through the tunnel again and start talking in Russian.”

It happens that verbal narrative is enough – creating an atmosphere by telling a story.

Preparing for the game, the participant, as a rule, comes up with a name for his hero. You can attach a sticker or a piece of adhesive tape with the name or use symbolic cards – they are distributed to the participants, and everyone, looking at the picture, independently comes up with a name and image. In addition, you can resort to a draw, during which a person receives an envelope with a piece of paper that lists the basic questions and the essence of his role. Such approaches work in games with both fictional and real characters.

When building the atmosphere you need, pay attention to the arrangement of chairs and tables, seating arrangements, create memorable details.

How to choose a setting

The setting can be directly related to the subject – for example, participants can try on the role of an archaeologist while studying history. Another less direct option is to create an impromptu cafe, where participants are divided into visitors and baristas, and all prices are in fractions.

“I like role-playing associative games. When you can take cards and create a world, heroes, and a story out of it – this approach is very clear, visual, accessible, and flexible in time. They are simple and understandable; you can set goals and build bizarre worlds. Suppose there is a set of two hundred cards and an infinite number of variations; such games are as flexible as possible in creating a new one.

I had a rather long experience conducting training for the media faculty at the Orange School. We studied the device of cinema. We worked in pairs because I was not a professional filmmaker. I needed to maintain a gaming and working atmosphere and build connections and communication. In the first lesson, we talked about the history of cinema. I wanted to avoid the classical methods of teaching. It would be boring to present information in the form of a lecture. In addition, we had a working group of students in grades 5-11 – a fairly strong age range.

How to create a valuable and exciting educational game 

We came up with the following mechanics: we took a lot of inventions that are not directly related to cinema – electricity, the light bulb, the radio, the airplane, and a steamboat. They printed out images with inventions and randomly hung them around the space. And then, we asked the guys to become a research group and connect everything with a conditional timeline, from the past to the future. The last stop was the IMAX 3D cinema.

With the help of a ball of thread, participants connected inventions. Firstly, it was fun because the space was covered with cobwebs; I had to wade through these “connections.” And you can also easily correct a mistake, outweigh the thread, because the guys are not required to know all the dates exactly. Plus, it’s very visual – the participants can immediately see what’s happening.”

What type of activity to choose

Most often, educational games use group activities, assuming that the participants will interact with each other. But this is optional. Sometimes even when you need to work in a group, each player builds their route.

“Once, in the context of a pedagogical laboratory, we were offered the popular form of a museum. Developing your exhibit and focusing on your feelings about a particular issue was necessary. Everyone worked individually on their exhibit because the material was personal, and the process did not require interaction with other participants.

But at the same time, in the end, each of us became a guide and presented a short story about our exhibit. The training is designed for personal activity, but at the same time, there is an opportunity to receive individual advice from the leader. It’s more of a mixed format.”

How the movement of participants during the game affects memorization

The interaction of game participants with each other helps to learn more effectively. A person constantly moves in space, chooses a convenient way to remember information, and communicates with others in a group.

“Physics and active movement are important. Some things are cool to live in motion. For example, there are games where you need to change the position of the body. A line is drawn, dividing the space into two parts, and you change your position or move depending on how much you agree with the statement voiced.

How to create a valuable and exciting educational game 

Firstly, you see a person; you can approach him, ask something, and draw conclusions. Secondly, there is super atmospheric training, where you don’t need to move too much. These are games where it’s cool to immerse yourself in a certain feeling, like when you sit and draw or think about something. Here the process itself is meditative.”

How important is an evaluation

Not all games have an assessment of the result according to the established scale. A balance is needed here: it is important that the training does not turn into a thoughtless earning of points.

“It seems to me that the points system is not always mandatory. It is much more important to create an atmosphere and raise topical issues. A popular example of how points can be used is the caramel casino. This is a quiz format where participants answer questions and receive candies, cookies, or other goodies for correct answers, a bit like “What? Where? When? “, only in a simplified form.

Here everyone works not for their own sake, but for the team, for the overall result, which is a very important point. It is necessary that individual participants do not have thoughts like “I am the best here, the fastest and smartest”. We work as if investing in a common bank: we will all eat together at the end of the earnings for the game.

This approach helps the guys to accept each other and their roles in the team. There is someone quiet who answered correctly once, there is a loud participant who answered incorrectly fifteen times – everyone has the opportunity to speak out and make a feasible contribution to the common cause, and everyone has a place in the game. All this reduces the craving to compete with each other and teaches you to work in a team.

It is quite difficult to think of another game with some reward system with countable units – this is not so common, but at least I rarely encountered it in practice. The most terrible and dangerous of this category of cases is when they give deuces at school and publicly discuss students’ results.

Do you need competition in the game?

One of the main aspects of classic games and video games is competition. However, educational games are another matter. In them, pushing players against each other and making them competitors is not at all necessary, sometimes even harmful.

“I generally avoid games that you have to win. This is a dangerous story, based on fairly simple things: winning involves superiority over something or someone. I have my favorite game, which I formatted many times because it has an element when one is better and the other loses. Although in reality, this should not happen.

I call the game “Pea King”. The bottom line is that everyone becomes king and queen and has their treasury. It can be replenished or spent as the game progresses, but the goal is to save your treasury. According to the rules, everyone starts talking on free topics; the only prohibition is not to say “yes” and “no.” If the participant says them, he gives the interlocutor his pea.

How to make a fun, educational game?

“Initially, if a person lost all the peas, he dropped out. That was a dangerous moment because no one wanted to be eliminated. I realized that this mechanic can be improved because it doesn’t happen in life that you spend all the money and don’t live anymore – you continue to somehow spin, communicate, work, and look for a way out of the situation.

I stopped voicing this frame: it turned out that if you spent all the savings, you can continue to interact. The competitive moment was gone; the participant no longer found himself as a loser or a spender. Okay, it happened; it happens in life too. Another element was improved by the guys themselves when they wanted to unite in groups and collect a common capital.

I do not use the competitive element because the goal needs to be clarified. This is built on superiority; it is unsafe and does not lead to anything good. This is not the Olympic Games. I’m not saying that individualism is a bad story; it’s more a question of goal setting. It is very important for me that the participants in the educational process understand that they are visible.

“We” is a rather vague concept. All the same, “I feel, I choose, I do” dominates in games. A participant can cooperate with someone and feel sympathy or antipathy for other participants. A person must have an a priori base place for his interests, thoughts, opinions, feelings, and actions.

This raises the question of how to present it. Games have no competition because the main value idea is that we are all different. Still, we can unite, communicate, ask for help, and attract additional resources. This makes a group or a person competitive, which does not contradict the main goal of such training. But here, the question arises about the ability to cooperate or refuse something, coordinating these decisions with one’s values and inner worldview. One does not exclude the other. Individualism is not equal to the competition.”

How to frame the game

Reminding a person that a game is a game can be extremely important. Maybe the participant has become very worried about what is happening – these are internal processes that he may not follow. Still, from the outside, it is often clear that he is uncomfortable. In such a situation, supporting and showing him that he is safe is important.

“In essence, the game is how we usually communicate, but in a very concentrated way. A person can immerse himself, but behavioral patterns and value manifestations can make themselves felt. For example, a participant may set fictional goals for himself and participate in fictional processes that the game does not involve. Still, this begins to happen in a person due to habits, character, or experience.

It’s important to talk about it. At the end of one game, I was asked why I behaved in a certain way. I said I was hiding the golden egg – this goal fit into my gaming tasks. I was then asked where my role was to hide the egg. There was no such goal, and it became interesting for me to understand how it happened, why, and why I set myself such a task.

I hid the egg everyone was looking for during the game and walked all this time with a straight face. The interesting point is to talk about why I wanted to hide something. My behavioral strategy ended sadly; all the participants in the game guessed that I had the treasure. Without agreeing with each other, they took me to the magic well and killed me. And despite the fact that the game did not imply victims. As a result, only some people achieved their goals.

This is projected onto all behavior patterns and explanations for oneself and those around one’s actions – that is, these aspects are extremely important in educational games. Aspects relate to how people interact, receive information, and come into contact, how actions affect relationships, and how people achieve their goals.

If we talk about a metaphorical or role-playing game, people almost get carried away and do something that was not originally intended in the game. This is the beauty: the participants can bring their views and message into this process and realize them.

How to make the game safe

The basic rules of any educational game are:

  • The voluntariness of participation.
  • The safety of all participants.
  • The ability to stop at any time.

“I remember a difficult case. We held a role-playing game in a children’s and teenage camp. A specific historical event was played: Jews were expelled from Spain because of their cultural and value views.

There were many roles in the game: those supporting the protest moods, the oppressed, the guards – plus the prison as one of the locations. There was a lot of everything, and the process went beyond the established framework at one point. The players got involved in this so much that they began to beat the teachers, and I had to urgently remind people that this was a game and that everything was in order. It wasn’t very easy.

This happened because of too much immersion and abundant related content; plus, the game took place outdoors, and we used water pistols and basins of water as protection. These factors heightened the emotional intensity. Even if a person tried to stop the game, the participants tried to throw water on each other; people could not stop.”

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