It’s long been part of the broader game design conversation that “fun is learning”, and that what we do as game designers is create smooth, usable, graceful progressions through a learning and discovery process — but I’ve yet to see a discussion of what organic systems and structures (even conventions) that have grown out of games (for example tech trees, leveling systems, first time user experience, resource management) can be best leveraged toward learning whether in or outside of a game.
We are heading into a time when the fields of learning and game design are beginning to converge and interact in ways they’ve never interacted before, from a standpoint of mutual respect and idea-sharing. How can we create a feedback loop into this system where game design informs learning design, and where learning design leads to the creation of better games? It starts with a shared vocabulary, and an understanding of what systems create what kinds of emotional and cognitive experiences. These “cookbook” approaches have been discussed inside and outside of Horseshoe before (“Multiplayer Game Atoms”, “Psychology for Game Designers”, “Solving Big Problems”…), but this topic would aim to create a list of major game structures and discuss their specific cognitive relationship to learning processes possibly as defined by the work of Piaget, Vygotsky, and more modern theorists and structures (systems thinking, persistence, affective impact, social norms).
The flip side of the feedback loop is that by understanding what it is that is fulfilling about learning, what the learning state looks like, what is happening on a microscopic level inside a person’s thinking when they learn, we can create more compelling introductory systems, smoother progressions, and stickier elder loops. First time user experience remains a persistent problem in most games, and some of the answers could well exist inside the heads of teachers and education scientists. It seems likely that even in thinking of the “first time user experience” as a universal thing, we might well discover that a diverse approach toward a first time user experience depending upon the kind of learning desired is what is most effective.