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  • Writer's pictureBhuvanesh Tekavade

Understanding Serious & Educational Games

There are three main books/ article we would be revieing in this article that tackle the challenges of making a serious game, an educational game or games for kids:

  1. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames, Ian Bogost, 2007, Available on MIT Press, Persuasive Games | The MIT Press

  2. Learning to Play or Playing to Learn - A Critical Account of the Models of Communication Informing Educational Research on Computer Gameplay, Hans Christian Arnseth, Institute for Educational Research, University of Oslo

  3. The Playful and the Serious: An approximation to Huizinga's Homo Ludens, Hector Rodriguez

Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames

(Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames, Ian Bogost, 2007)

Based on well-known facts and observations, it is easy to draw conclusions about the impact of video games on modern culture. Viewers can now experience a more advanced virtual world than ever before, a virtual world full of scenarios and characters. Interactive entertainment from this unique brand makes you question the way the medium works and the ever-growing industry. Why are you devoting your time and attention to this media? What should people invest in games? And to what extent does the intended message reach the player? All of these questions need to be answered, but where do I start?

In his book Persuasive Games: The Expressiveness of Video Games, Ian Bogost seeks to provide a starting point for these investigations. Tracing stories that provide unique insights and facts is easy, but limited by technology and practice at the time of publication. That said, readers should not hesitate about the lack of a fixed culture of Bogost's "modern" social media, instead using his work as an imaginative reference, and of more related works should be used as a basis.

Bogost's books are divided into three different content-rich chapters: politics, promotion, and learning, with each chapter having additional levels within each section. But before all the fun, the reader has to go through the rhetoric of the procedure till page 65. This is a strange beginning to include rhetoric in a video game book, but it works well to give the reader an overview of the context and set the stage for Bogost's views in subsequent chapters.


Interesting in the author's persuasive work with video games is the effort he first made to establish a rhetoric-based system. Bogost draws inspiration and models from the style of rhetorical messages and lays the foundation for a compelling debate about the fateful voting of Socrates's jury, based on Greek methodologies (Bogost, 2007, p.15). This method of communication theory can be questioned in this section. Walter Fisher's narrative paradigm, on the other hand, examines the structure of the story of beliefs and seeks a more humane and relevant approach, as opposed to a dry, alienated rhetoric style.

For interactive media such as video games, it is strange for Bogost to establish this rhetorical method of persuasion. The more interactive the game, the more impressed and knowledgeable the player is, because Bogost presents the facts and truths about the high density video game environment and views this concept by uploading context scenarios that claims to be a canvas for the player. He creates more as an emotional medium of persuasion. If it feels like a tree, looks like a tree, and smells like a tree, it's a tree. In addition, consider as well as Bogost's persuasive potential to his book readers-the book says that Bogost uses facts and knowledge to convince readers to play video game beliefs. It encourage readers to continue thinking a form of communication, and thus a form of rhetorical persuasion.

Learning to Play or Playing to Learn - A Critical Account of the Models of Communication Informing Educational Research on Computer Gameplay

In today's age, games have been already fused with the many school's curriculum. Also, with the growth of internet, learning is now not just situated in schools or colleges, its live on the internet. With this growth anyone trying to learn a particular subject can more or less find an equivalent simulator that will give them hands on experience while maintaining the magic circle.

Example 1 - While True: Learn() is a game created for people who want to learn how to code and it gradually takes you from learning the basics of variables to creating complex code in a game format.

Example 2 - Simulation games like House Flipper, gives an interior design enthusiast the opportunity to get hands on experience of designing the house for a client. Similarly, someone who wants to get into the City Development side, can play City Skyline which replicates the process of building a city within the magic circle.

Before we get into the details of the article, let me sum up what the writer wants to say in a question: "How is the relationship between the activity of gaming and cognition conceived in educational research on computer games, and what are the problems and opportunities for analytical practice?"


Before discussing the possible inputs of video games in the field of education, the writer talks a little bit about how games have been represented. Here is a brief understanding from my personal experience:

The potential danger or negative side of computer games is because of how the cultural representation treats it. This way its not treated as an entity itself, but as a means that is defined by how we use them and talk about them in different context. India being the prime example in such a scenario; games have for a very long period of time deemed as something that's done to "waste time", and if you do that you are potentially ruining your future. Here games are directly being used as a tool to showcase that there is no future. This has changed over the course of time and now games are associated with "Time-Pass" which is a means to clear ones head by passing some time playing frivolous games. Games are still not looked at as a Game but just a means to do something else.

There have been many discussion about how games becoming a part of ones life can diminish the value of other things. The idea of computer games trying to remove focus from reading and writing is completely baseless in my opinion. A player needs to read in games to understand basic instructions, a player needs to write in games to provide information to friends. Yes, there are not many games that primarily have been made to enhance the reading and writing skills, but that is also because of the baseless opinions we create. Computer games have not received the platform to create something to make learning more fun. It's something that we are witnessing now as a trend, but it still misses the point of making "learning fun" as we focus on making a game "to learn". As Huizinga has mentioned in Homo Luden, the ability to learn a specific topic must be from the ludic nature of the topic itself, rather than adding fun into the topic. (summarizing Homo Luden, Johan Huizinga). The lack on one's ability or want to "not" play outside cannot be blamed on video games. It's as if blaming chocolate for being chocolate. This is particularly seen at a very young age, which needs to be convened and controlled by the parents in some degree. We stop our child from eating chocolates since it will cause harm to their teeth, why can't to stop kids from playing video games so that they have a balanced focus on both outdoor activities and video games ?

R E S E A R C H A P P R O C H & F I N D I N G S

Now back to the topic at hand; The titles of this article puts forward a very interesting picture in front of us. "Learning to Play and Playing to Learn." Idealistically both of these statements are valid. You can either learn by playing a game, or play a game to learn something. Personally, for me the second sounds more intriguing as it draws the fundamental ludic nature of the topic.

  1. The approach to both types of learning is different from the perspective of a researcher. Researcher that favors a cognitive perspective (Play to Learn) focuses on variable outcomes from the feature of the game, of the person, setting, wider social, cultural and material context.

  2. Where as researcher that adheres to more social and cultural perspective prefer more qualitative method (Learning to play), this focuses more on the activity itself and how history, culture and artifacts mediate different practices.

Neither of the two perspective are necessarily wrong or right, both just pose very different context and outcomes of both have varied reflections in real world practice.

When research is presented from the context of Playing to learn, one observation is that students perform significantly well when learning is presented as a game rather than test. But it sometimes posses the risk of transferring the knowledge gained from computer games into practical and laboratory context.

On the other hand, in terms of Learning to Play, researchers have found that incorporating a narrative or story into the core of the subject itself leads to better performance from the students. But this is subject to the students actively partaking in discussions and receiving adequate feedback. The transfer of such a learning process is possible in the real world as well but only if they are put in a similar context as to that of the game.


In summary, changes in institutional practices entail complex transformations that can be facilitated by incorporating game elements. However, games should not be taken on their own to make learning more meaningful, fun, and enjoyable. Uncritically describing games as built learning environments is also problematic. Because such claims can be easily modified to fit the specific economic interests prevalent in the gaming industry. This could undermine the credibility and relevance of game research as a research area.

This article tried to critically exploring whether computer games have been understood in relation to learning and literacy. I tried to show a model that has a problem with the effect of computer games for knowledge and learning. It is the most important presence that we can investigate the value that we are in a computer game or to configure the game in the game. You can provide a more realistic account for how you can use a researcher, as well as a researcher, as well as a researcher, as well as a researcher, as well as a researcher, as well as a researcher. Schools, actually people learn when participating in the activity of computer games.

The Playful and the Serious: An approximation to Huizinga's Homo Ludens

"Huizinga's book describes play as a free and meaningful activity, carried out for its own sake, spatially and temporally segregated from the requirements of practical life, and bound by a self-contained system of rules that holds absolutely." - Hector Rodriguez

Huizinga's ideology for fun as said is very elusive. In modern times that are games that are "serious" yet can be categorized as fun to play. Games don't necessarily need be "Fun", there can be games that put fun into a subtext and talk about serious issues. As per Huizinga, "To describe play is to describe its "meaningfulness" for the players." Quality of the player's experience depends, at least to some extent, on the structure of norms and resources that guide or organize their actions.

The breakdown of Homo Luden's description of play in my opinion is valid. I believe that "Play" & its counter "Experience" are very subjective to multiple magnitudes of situations. It's a very common saying these day, "What is fun for me, does not mean it's going to be fun for others." This line to many extends is a pillar for me while designing any game. The introduction of "other" in the context of play is also a very good point being made as for an experience to quantify as an experience, there needs to be a medium, without that medium there is no other and without the other there is no fun. The other in todays games are not just bound by narrative and npc's or quests, it can be simply bound by rules of the world which creates a challenge for the player forming an invisible other for the player to interact with.

"There is a difference between describing the functions that playing performs and describing the reasons why people play." - Hector Rodriguez

To my understanding, play is not something that can be qualitatively, psychologically and biologically be defined. It's an activity that one does just for the experience. Applying a potential gain from the activity of Play is to destroy the purpose of play. Yes it does have its advantages, but those advantages don't make play a better experience, its the experience that makes the play better and provides those advantages as a by-product which again is completely subjective.

Paraphrasing Huizinga, people do not typically play because they have rationally inferred that playing is good for them. Those who emphasize the function of play often assume that playing is motivated by a rational assessment of its potential benefits. But play does not characteristically rest on utilitarian calculations. Players are typically motivated by the quality of experience that playing affords, not by the expectation of some future utility.

I S T H E A C T O F P L A Y S E R I O S ?

Anything serious can be taken from a playful perspective and anything playful can quickly turn into something serious. Hence, play not being serious is contrary to the very definition of play. Although "Play" for a child and that of an adult are two very different things. For a child the activity of play is the purest form of play which disregards all other aspects around it, where as for an adult, play or the experience of play is hugely bound by the immersion level which constitutes of many things including something that is serious. Hence, play not being serious to me is a false statement and a wrong understanding of Homo Luden as per the thesis's writer.

These days there are two approaches to Serious games these days:

  • Edutainment - Fusing entertainment for the sole purpose of making the act of learning a bit more fun which goes against the approach of Huizinga.

  • Playing can be part of the learning process because the subject to be learnt is, at least in some respects, essentially playful. The use of serious games in the learning process therefore illuminates the fundamental nature of the subject being taught.


I personally am not a designer that makes educational games but I am very interested in the format of serious games. The article has been very insightful for me to understand the ludic nature of play and how to in-corporate its fundamentals to bring our the playfulness of a something serious. Anything and everything has a ludic nature, and exploiting its fundamental root is the key to make a serious game fun.


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