Monday, 25 February 2013

Games Based Learning Integrated with Traditional Exercises

There is a buzz surrounding games based learning currently.  They are many games that can be used in classrooms and for training and development.  However, they will usually be most effective when they sit alongside traditional materials.  It is unlikely that you could get all the information you need from one game (although of course it is possible).


Recently we were asked by The University of Northampton to put together a learning simulation to be delivered within the context of a Housing and Community Living Module within the Health School.  We developed Planit-Housing.  In Planit-Housing, additional workshop activities (incidents) have been fully integrated into the learning simulation.  Teams must complete exercises out of the simulation, which directly feed back into their in-game progress and score.  The quality of the delegate’s responses to the incidents (a riot or flood in the virtual community) alters multiple variables and the teams’ budgets in the simulation.  There is a seamless interaction between the two learning elements.  They offer a richer experience than either a game or traditional learning activities could have done alone.  This approach also addresses varied learning needs and styles (see ‘Games Based Learning Supports Multiple Learning Styles').  It also provides a flexible way of learning that the facilitator can control and depending on their time constraints, the activities can be divided up as the facilitator sees fit.

The Planit-Housing programme is designed to:

  • Explain the complexities of the subject, including issues faced by those in different housing sectors, which will be identified and examined from a health perspective in addition to multiple sources of inequity/exclusion.
  • Enable the students to improve collaborative working skills and practically explore the partnership working necessary for successful and sustainable communities.  These include developing an understanding of the big picture (strategic thinking), cause and effect (joined up thinking), communication / negotiation skills and collaborative working (the importance of partnerships). 

Integration of Learning Simulation with Traditional Exercises

Planit-Housing is the latest learning simulation from pixelfountain; the latest incarnation of our mission to integrate learning simulations with traditional exercises.  In Planit-Housing, each team’s performance in the exercises is judged for content, presentation, teamwork and understanding the wider impacts of the incident.  These values are entered easily into the learning simulation via a dashboard.  In this way multiple variables and the team’s budgets are altered.  For example, in the riot incident, a poor performance by the Housing Team could result in more destruction and reduced housing quality.  Whereas a good performance would mean the team was better prepared and so the impacts in the riot would not be as bad.  In fact, a team could generate positive outcomes for the virtual community, such as improved cohesion resulting from community clean-ups.

The learning simulation also has save functionality.  This means that time constraints needn’t be a worry.  Planit-Housing has been used by The University of Northampton over three afternoon sessions.  However, it is flexible and could be used over fewer or more sessions if desired.  It is our firm belief that the teacher/facilitator should be fully in control of the learning process and therefore flexibility built into games is an important feature.  For more information, see our Games Based Learning Analysis and Planning Tool).  The teacher/facilitator should be able to stop game play at any time to reinforce or assess learning, do a non-game activity, end the session and so on.  Many commercial games do not allow this and some purpose built games overlook this feature.

Benefits of the approach

  • Flexibility – the approach allows the simulation workshop to incorporate any sort of activity to achieve a specific learning outcome.
  • Extension – the learning simulation can be extended to incorporate sophisticated workshop exercises and additional learning components, which can be interweaved into the game play.
  • No additional development - whatever the exercise, the trainees can be judged using standard metrics.
  • Engagement – the exercises break up the game play and the simulation brings added weight to the traditional workshop exercise.
  • Supports multiple learning styles – exercises / learning components can be designed to suit all learning styles and together they work in a single meta exercise or learning piece.
  • Supports active learning – real world activities can be incorporated into the learning process. 

What Next

pixelfountain is always looking to innovate and improve.  The next steps for this type of learning could include a more sophisticated dashboard which would enable the trainer / facilitator to:

  • Trigger any number of incidents as and when they want them to occur in the workshop programme.
  • Integrate incidents without the need for additional bespoke coding.  Specific algorithm variables could be selected in terms of the impact of a newly devised incident.  The trainer could determine the level of impact for each variable and how the workshop activity relates to the variables.

A core simulation could then incorporate incidents without the need to involve a development team.

Other Examples

Grandma’s Games:  Grandma’s Games have won awards for their innovative learning programmes, which make use of traditional games (mostly from Macedonia), such as hopscotch and Cat’s Cradle.  They use these games along with technology to teach areas within and beyond the curriculum.  For example, a game called Chelik (steel) has the following learning outcomes:

To learn the linear measures, cm (centimeter) dm (decimeter) and m (meter); to be able to compare linear measures by free judgment; to make linear measure instruments, rulers and tape measures with the use of computers; to draw in Paint and to print rulers and tape measures glued on a piece of paper; to define homonyms (same words with different meanings); evergreen and deciduous trees; to explore pictures using Bing, memorize and insert them in a Power Point presentation.”

For more information and resources visit:

SimCityEDU: As I am sure many of you are aware, the latest incarnation of SimCity will be released early next month.   However, what you might not know is that SimCityEDU has also been developed by a partnership between Electronic Arts, Inc. (EA) and GlassLab (a research and development initiative aimed at transforming learning practices through digital games). Educators can use SimCityEDU in the classroom to teach students STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects alongside traditional methods.  The website (which goes live in March 2013) reads:

Engage your students by using the SimCity game to make learning come alive! Create and share SimCity-based learning tools that address a wide range of subjects including science, math, civics, economics, and more.”

Please follow @paulladley on Twitter and like games-ED’s Pinterest, Facebook and Google+ pages for blog updates and interesting games based learning links and resources.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Gamification - Different Types of User

I was recently pointed in the direction of an blog article from Andrzej Marczewski, ‘Different Types of Users in Gamification’.  Andrzej built on Richard Bartle’s player type theory.  Bartle’s theorised that you could categorise MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game players in one of four ways: killer, achiever, socialiser and explorer.  To read Bartle’s full theory, click here.  Andrzej took these ideas and related them to gamification.

Andrzej notes that the important distinction between game players and users of gamified content is that they may not wish to ‘play’.  Andrzej categorises users as: Players, Socialisers, Free Spirits, Achievers and Philanthropists.  Below is his explanation of each:

  • Players are the ones who like to get the achievements in your system; they like to see their names on the leaderboards.  They like the “game” of it all. They are also the most likely to make use of “loop holes” to gain an advantage. There to play the game and are happy with the extrinsic rewards.
  • Socialisers (as in the original Player Type) are the ones who want to interact with others. They like to be connected to others. They are interested in parts of the system that help them do this. These are the ones will evangelise your internal social networks. Most motivated by the social connectiosn aspects of relatedness.
  • Free Spirits like to have agency. They don’t want to be restricted in how they go through their personal journey. They will be the most creative, have the fanciest avatars, create the most personal content, but also find the most holes in a system. They seek self expression and autonomy.
  • Achievers are the ones who want to be the best at things, or at least be achieving things within the system. They want to get 100% on the internal learning system. They do this for themselves and are probably not that bothered with then showing off to others about it. (This differs from the original definition, but I could not think of a better word!!). They need a system that will enrich them and lead them towards mastery.
  • Philanthropists want to feel that they are of something bigger.  They want to give back to others. These are the ones who will answer endless questions on forums, just because they like to feel they are helping. They want a system that allows them to enrich others and feel a sense of purpose.

So why is this useful?  Andrzej goes on to explain that each of these types prefer to operate in either structured or unstructured ways and for material and non-material gains.  The second part of his blog article extends this idea further explaining how users see rewards, whether they act within the system or not and how they interact with other users.  While the second part of his article gets a little complicated, it is a great tool for anyone thinking of utilising gamification.  Andrzej argues that you must create a balanced system for all users for gamification to be worthwhile and fully useful and he does a lot of the work for you in terms of working out how to do this.

For the first part of the series, visit:
For part two:

pixelfountain and its brand, games-ED, who bring this blog to you, develop learning simulations (serious games) to be used in training workshops and in the classroom.  These games are used in training so delegates are not classic game players or have not come to play.  So does Andrzej’s classification hold water in our experience? We would say that we have certainly come across these different types of players in our workshops.

We have come across a significant minority of players, who report that they enjoyed getting the high score or beating the other team – we have on occasion played more than one simulation in an event.  These are Player types.  But the most common type, bearing in mind that the games are used in training workshops, could be thought of as modified Achievers.  Note: Andrzej suggests that people may be a combination of ‘types of user’, but they usually have one main motivator.

The following quotes are just a sample of the feedback we have gained from our latest product, sim-uni (a learning simulation that models a University to train Higher Education employees).

“I think the event/the simulation provided a fun way to learn about the different elements that impact on the running of the University (particularly in raising awareness of areas not directly related to those you may have worked in), and could also be used as a team building event (irrespective of the actual content of the simulation).  It really got you thinking and talking about the issues, and also about the importance of communication (networking and negotiation).”
- E-Learning Manager

This player comes over as being primarily an Achiever.  They enjoyed playing the simulation as it provided a fun way of learning and raising awareness.  I think that secondary to this, they are a Socialiser.  They note that the simulation would be well suited to a team building event, appreciated that sim-uni got them ‘talking about the issues’ and that it highlighted the importance of communication.

“Taking part in the sim-uni event gave me an interesting insight into the way different decisions about admissions policy, budgeting, staffing, research, resources etc are linked and have an effect on a university’s reputation as well as its ability to do its job. The sim could provide value to the whole range of university personnel, to show how they fit in to the big picture, and how the big picture depends on the smaller details.”
- Divisional Manager

This delegate / player is primarily an Achiever. They appreciate the game as it helped them increase their understanding of various issues. They also have a hint of Philanthropy about them. They appreciate the wider goals and the greater purpose and suggest how it could be useful to ‘the whole range of university personnel’.

“The day was a lot of fun.  I enjoyed working with a range of colleagues from across the University (some of whom I had never met before) and once we got a handle on what we were doing, we were able to bring some creativity and ingenuity to the exercise!  The facilitator was engaging and knowledgeable and the whole event definitely got me thinking about how Universities work.

I would definitely recommend the exercise to anyone who is interested in taking part.”
- Head of School Administration

This delegate is a Socialiser and a Free Spirit.  They ‘enjoyed working with a range of colleagues from across the University’ and they ‘were able to bring some creativity and ingenuity to the exercise’.  Their primary motivations seem to be the social aspect of the workshop and they obviously enjoyed how flexible the workshop and simulation were as it allowed them to be creative and autonomous.

“We stepped out of our silos.  It was a great opportunity to view the University operation from a different perspective and to appreciate the value of collaborative working across the organisation.”
- Head of Student Operations

This delegate is an Achiever / Socialiser.  They enjoyed the opportunity to learn, however they also enjoyed socialising and working beyond their silos.

A Faculty team report screen.
“The ‘Sim-Uni’ event was very engaging and an excellent way for managers (new and established) to learn more about managing and being responsible for budgets.  Through the use of simulated ‘Report Screens’ you could see the impact of your budgetary decisions made year on year, that as a manager can be an invaluable tool helping you to steer the direction of your purchasing decisions and areas of work that impacts on and feeds into the overall achievement of the University’s strategic goals” 
- HR Manager

While this delegate could be seen as a player (due to liking report screens as a guage of progress and achievements); it is more likely they are beind descriptive for the benefit of others. So, I would argue they are an Achiever / Philanthropist as this delegate appreciates the learning outcomes of the learning simulation and workshop above all else.

Andrzej has so far named four user types that are intrinsically motivated in certain ways: Socialiser, Free Spirit, Achiever and Philanthropist.  In his second blog post he discusses how there are four types of extrinsically motivated users of gamified content too: Networker, Exploiter, Consumer and Self-Seeker.

  • Self Seekers Act on Users for Extrinsic Reward- They will answer questions and help others, but purely to get rewards from the system. Quantity over quality – unless quality gets them more rewards. They are uninterested in the social aspect of users
  • Consumers Act on the System for Extrinsic Reward - A consumer wants to use a system that can give them something. An example would be people who use one particular airway because of the loyalty scheme.
  • Networkers Interact with Users for Extrinsic Reward - They want social connections, but to give them some form of status or reward. An example of this are people who network and tweet etc. just to get higher Klout scores
  • Exploiters Interact with the System for Extrinsic Reward - Similar in nature to Self Seekers, they are the people who will like or upvote or retweet something multiple times to gain reward. Unlike Free Spirits, who will seek the boundaries of a systems capabilities for fun, they are very likely to find the loopholes in your rules and exploit them

It seems to me that these 8 types of users of gamified content can also be used to describe most of the people we come across in our organisations, if not our lives at large.  And what also seems likely is that people will fit into different categories in different situations.  For example, you might be a Socialiser and Achiever at home, but be a Networker and Consumer at work.  So while these types are important when designing gamified content, they could also be very useful when designing other interventions: training, rewards structures, communications and so on.

For more information about sim-uni, visit: and feel free to let me know your views and experiences in the comments section below.

Please follow @paulladley on Twitter and like games-ED’s Pinterest, Facebook and Google+ pages for blog updates and other interesting games based learning things.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Games Develop Social Bonds and Communication Skills

For a long time, many people have assumed that ‘gamers’ are unsociable, loners with poor social skills who reside in their dark bedrooms, only venturing outside to fulfil their basic needs.  However, research shows that this is far from the truth.

Some research does indicate that playing first person shooters such as Halo and Call of Duty does impact negatively on the players’ relationships.  However, that seems to be more to do with the way that people play games than the games themselves.  Research from Benjamin Hickerson at The Pennsylvania State University has found that some gamers play the game primarily as a way to reinforce social bonds.  In-game features such as cooperative modes and multiplayer options make playing games socially both easy and attractive.  The research shows that among this group of social game players, the games help build social ties and enhance social support.

Hickerson’s research suggests that indicators, such as the amount of time and money spent on games, are not related to gamers’ success in maintaining social ties.  He  argues that “Players may actually be doing something positive when gaming becomes a way for games to connect with friends who they otherwise may not be able to spend time with, especially friends who they are not near geographically.”

Hickerson’s study measured centrality (the need to organise ones’ life around the activity) against social bonding.  ‘Centrality’ scores indicated that on the whole, peoples’ social lives were not adversely affected by gaming, although there were a minority that were implicated.  However, Hickerson believes that games may be able to help.  He argues that this information could help video game designers create games that identify socially problematic behaviours (i.e. excessive centrality) and include features in the games that help the players maintain friendships and relationships.

But do games not already do this?  As well as playing in cooperative and multiplayer modes as I mentioned earlier, experts believe that MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games), may actually “promote sociability and new worldviews.”  Experts have described these virtual worlds as a new kind of ‘third space’ (a place for social interaction and relationships, outside of home and work).  For many people, they are the preferred way of meeting and hanging out with people, when in the past they may have gone to the pub or to a café.  The study titled, “Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as ‘Third Places.’” suggests that the cause of this phenomenon is the lack of real-world hangouts.

In these games, people can hold multiple real-time conversations using text or their voices through microphones.  The study explains that this can enable them to build “relationships of status and solidarity.”  Often, the games reward people for creating long-term relationships and lasting player ‘guilds’ and it can be difficult to play some MMORPGs without doing so.  This is exactly what Hickerson was talking about.

Researchers Steinkuehler and Williams also found that participation in these virtual ‘third places’ “appears particularly well suited to the formation of bridging social capital – social relationships that, while not usually providing deep emotional support, typically function to expose the individual to a diversity of worldviews… In other words… spending time in these social games helps people meet others not like them, even if it doesn’t always lead to strong friendships. That kind of social horizon-broadening has been sorely lacking in American society for decades.”

The authors explain that “To argue that their MMO game play is isolated and passive media consumption that takes the place of informal social engagement is to ignore the nature of what participants actually do behind the computer screen… It’s really a question of what kind of balance the person has in their life… that reason, online spaces are not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon that can simply be labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad.’”

I completely agree, in that the stereotypical view I described in the first paragraph of this post describes very few people who enjoy games.  In my opinion, you could describe many other people in this way who read books, like films, spend their lives on Pinterest and so on.  In my opinion, it is not the activity, but the personality of the individual that defines whether they are sociable or not.

There is much research like that above which shows that games can encourage social interaction and increase social skills and bonds.  Games are increasingly becoming a social activity akin to the past where a family may have gathered around a piano or radio.  You can hardly argue that consoles such as the Wii and Xbox Kinect weren’t designed to be used socially.

One of the factors that actually encourages learning has been found to be social interaction.  Therefore, there is huge scope for cooperative games based learning such as the games in my blog article: ‘Kinect Games Based Learning’ and those that we at games-ED develop.  We have delivered over 450 workshops using games based learning and we find that our simulations are a great tool for encouraging cooperation, teamwork and building bonds.

We also firmly believe that games can be great talking points and can encourage communication skills.  For more research and expertise in this area, see our blog posts: ‘The Art of Conversation’ and ‘Developing Communication Skills via Games Based Learning’.


  • Hickerson, B., & Mowen, A. (in press). Behavioral and Psychological Involvement of Online Video Gamers: Gateways or Barriers to Social Integration? Society & Leisure.
  • Steinkuehler, C., and Williams, D. (2006). Where everybody knows your (screen) name: Online games as “third places.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(4), article 1.