Theories of Games and Interaction for Design (4: 3 Responses)

Approximate Reading Time: 5 minutes

These are public postings of my writings for the first course of the Graduate Certificate Program in Serious Game Design and Research at Michigan State University.

Each week, we are required to post three responses/reactions to queries posted by other members of the class in the previous week. These are mine.

I have paraphrased the queries to preserve my classmates’ privacy.

Please note: these posts are not intended as any kind of commentary on or assessment of the course I’m taking, or its instructor, OR of Michigan State University or the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, or the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media. They are solely my thoughts and reactions that stem from the readings.

Feel free to comment, disagree, or what have you.

Week 4

These are the readings we had last week:

  • Ch. 6, Prensky, M. (2001). Digital game-based learning. New York: Mcgraw-Hill.
    • 6: Digital Game-Based Learning: Why and How it Works
  • Ch. 4, 5, Gee, J. P. (2007). Good video games + good learning: Collected essays on video games, learning and literacy. New York: Peter Lang
    • 4: Good Video Games, The Human Mind, and Good Learning
    • 5: Learning about Learning from a Videogame (Rise of Nations)

These are the Games:

Response 1: Is there an in-game solution to fix Osy Osmosis?

One ofmy assignments was to review one of the games included as examples in this course. I chose Osy Osmosis, and my review can be found here. Several of the questions from last week came out of this review. This is one of them.

If we want players to discover the concepts we are trying to teach, it is important to make sure that the actions in the game are tied to the things we want them to learn.

Here’s one way this could have been done that creates a closer connection between the learning goals and the game goals. It doesn’t require huge changes in the design of the game either – it is primarily a change in the narrative.

Osy is a one-celled organism who needs to gather sufficient nutrients to be able to survive long enough to reproduce. Instead of chasing stars, she searches for food. Now she is a little like a virtual pet, and the goal of collecting something makes sense.

The win now becomes her splitting into two or reproducing in whatever fashion you choose. We can also use the same storyline to give her new / different strengths as the game progresses through the levels.

It also allows us to integrate the properties of osmosis into the game without it simply being a “learning pop-up”:

Her skin is permeable, and as we all know (hint, hint) the “First law of Osmosis” states that the fluids on two sides of a permeable membrane always try to be in balance.

We can decrease the concentration inside Osy by making her bigger, and increase it by making her smaller.  We can also add or remove particles.

After spending more time with the game, I do think they have jumped in too far along the understanding of the process so the notion of  “solute-bound water” and “free water” confuses things. I think it would have been better to stick to a simpler explanation, at least at the start. One of the real challenges when introducing a new subject is what to reveal, and what to gloss over. Part of the art of teaching is knowing what to leave out (and when to put it back in).

The relationship of the ‘bits’ and the other particles is not clear. Visually, the entire background is water, so having free water that moves around doesn’t seem to fit. They’d have been better off using the color or shade to indicate concentration. As it is, the space-like background with its darker areas and lighter clouds doesn’t seem to mean anything – which further confuses things.

Response 2: Is More Choice Always Better?


Too much choice often interferes with learning; just like creating a simulated environment that is too real becomes counter-productive, especially with novices. Giving the learner too many things to think about too soon makes it much harder for them to navigate their way through to the destination you want them to find. There’s even a theory of choice overload: “The choice overload hypothesis states that an increase in the number of options to choose from may lead to adverse consequences such as a decrease in the motivation to choose or the satisfaction with the finally chosen option.” (Benjamin Scheibehenne, Rainer Greifeneder, & Peter M. Todd, 2010)

On the other hand, insufficient choice is also a problem. Clearly there is a sweet spot for how much choice to offer at any given moment, but I suspect the right amount will depend not only on what it is you are trying to teach, but also on who your learners are, and what they already know. Even worse, it is unlikely that your target audience will be uniform enough to allow you to set up exactly the right amount of choice in any serious game or other learning application.


Benjamin Scheibehenne, Rainer Greifeneder, & Peter M. Todd. (2010). Can There Ever Be Too Many Options? A Meta?Analytic Review of Choice Overload. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(3), 409-425.


Response 3: How seriously do educators take Behavioral Learning these days?

This question intrigues me for several reasons:

1. I have a farm with a lot of animals, and I have been raising, training, and working with dogs for nearly 30 years.

2. I have seen the popular trend in formal education move away from behavioral learning, not always for reasons other than “it’s the way things are done now”.

3. I have 3 grown children and have developed some of my own ideas about the value of behavioral learning over the years.

First off, I will say that I see far more classical training going on in formal education that most are willing to admit. Simple stimulus-reward training still happens for a great variety of administrative tasks associated with formal schooling, all the time. Just watch freshman students working their way through the first few days of school – line-ups, do things this way rather than that, etc. You can’t tell me there isn’t a great deal of classical training going on here.

That having been said, there is nothing wrong with classical training per se, and I would say that there are still a great many applications. Take learning to swim, for example (or learning to ride a horse, or drive a car, etc.). These physical tasks benefit from simple stimulus-response training, and in fact, certain kinds of skills are harder to learn if you over think things (fighter pilots, for example).

Certain kinds of rote learning (like multiplication tables) benefit from simple behavioral approaches.

I think behavioral training becomes problematic when it is used in inappropriate places and for inappropriate purposes. It is important to remember though that not all learning is about higher order thinking and problem solving. The trick is knowing enough about the thing you are teaching to have a good idea of what kind of approach is likely to work the best.

p.s. I’m always temped to giggle when teachers and other academics talk about the “clickers” they use in classrooms – because I always picture the clickers I have for my dogs and the kind of training that uses those clickers. There are benefits to this kind of training too, and while we would probably get in trouble for using the kinds of clickers they use for dogs (or horses, or dolphins,…) in a classroom, the principle still has applications.

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