Play is crucial for human growth and development. It allows us to explore and expand our creativity, connect with others and nurture our intrinsic motivators through getting in tune with an inner sense of purpose.
One of the most effective and popular methods of play is through games.
Games in learning work great in practical terms. They offer a host of possibilities to get better at problem-solving, test hypotheses, and learn new skills without the risks and costs associated with real-life experiences (pilots learn to fly planes in games and simulators for a reason!).
Schools and higher education institutions have been using games in one form or another for a while, from the earliest version of a Montessori classroom to universities using Risk to teach strategy and simulators to encourage entrepreneurial thinking (e.g. Acton School of Business).
Meanwhile, in the business and brand world, gaming is huge and getting bigger, but often needs better structure along with education on how to approach it while keeping it contextual and non-intrusive (yup, very meta).
Brands have been trying their hand at gaming from a variety of different angles. The likes of Mondelez have been associated with gaming for some time, and are now looking at how they can use it as an active source of engagement and not just place its products in games.
With brands increasing their focus on collecting first-party data, games may provide an unlock that also enables brands to become neo educators.
What’s different now?
Products like Duolingo have used play to learn mechanics since their inception, games like Sim City had educational undertones, and ‘choose your adventure’ style approaches have been used to augment a variety of entertainment properties.
Up until relatively recently, using games to help people learn was either expensive or clunky (or both). We see two shifts happening.
1. Getting Serious
The first is the top end of gaming has become really good. As we explored in Act 2, Serious Games continue to increase in popularity, and with increased levels of complexity, flexibility, and realism, there’s more opportunity to create edutainment that doesn’t feel like Chocolate Covered Broccoli (and do we really need any more kill-everyone-loot-everything games...?)
The second shift is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The barriers to entry on building games keeps decreasing. Whether it’s open sourcing the components of a board game, or new digital tools like Breshna that enable us to create our own games directly on our web browser or phone - there’s greater opportunity to bring Play to Learn into our projects.
As our friend Matteo Menapace puts it:
Games have a huge expressive potential. They can make complex systems understandable, and empower people to engage with tough questions. It’s more than just playing games. We can have the most transformative learning experiences when we make games.
Play-to-Learn can be as advanced as fully immersive metaverse experiences (more on those in our Emerging Trends), yet also as simple as weaving basic gamification techniques to elevate a piece of content or activity.
Why this trend matters
Games are an incredibly powerful medium to foster engagement, connection, and cultivate skill development. And with the gaming industry worth well over $150 billion, companies and creators need to take advantage of this Edutainment experience.
Just keep in mind that the best gamification is work masquerading as play, so create the right balance of learning and leisure.
In Action: Play-to-Learn
Simulations have been around for a while, but the agility of emerging tech is now making them more accessible and immediate. We no longer need to wait hours in line at a theme park, or even spend $50 on a deep-dive video game.
Synthesis offers weekly simulations that develop ‘soft skills’ - critical thinking, collaboration, and cultivating a sense of voice.
Yes, it “officially” fits in our kids’ lead the way section, but we’re excited at the prospect of more products like this emerging for curious learners of all ages.
The Discovery Tour refers to a range of educational modes available for the hugely successful Assassin’s Creed games series.
These modes give players the chance to explore the vast and detailed landscapes of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and Viking-era England and Norway, without the regular games’ conflicts and combat.
But the Discovery Tour isn’t a a passive guided tour. Instead, you assume the roles of in-game characters as they undertake quests and missions that illustrate their daily lives.
The combination of high production values, learning by doing, multiple exploration modes, and behind the scenes access has led developer Ubisoft to extend the Discovery Tour from a one-off title into a key part of a series that’s sold over 150 million copies. Chocolate-covered Broccoli this ain’t.
Blinkist is a gamified educational app that helps people read non-fiction books in just 15 minutes. It uses core drives (CD2) to help people read more, learn more, and become more competent which makes them feel smart, successful, and probably sophisticated.
This crisis simulator uses interactive experiences combined with live-action films to teach CPR for free. At its core, it’s a story-led life-saving game that stands the test of time as a great example of gamified e-learning. What makes it stand out is the combination of gaming principles with immersive storytelling and strong characters.
Lego Serious Play is a facilitated thinking, communication, and problem-solving methodology that helps teams become more effective. Teams use creativity, sharing, and reflecting to build metaphors while they play with LEGO bricks. This innovative, experimental process is designed to enhance innovation and business performance. Who said Lego was just for kids?
Google's Blockly Games is a series of educational games that teach programming, all based on the Blockly library where all code is free and open-source.
In Blockly Maze, players are introduced to concepts behind simple computer programming with a graphical editing tool that uses blocks instead of typed characters. Players drag blocks together to build a simple web application - instructing a character to move through a maze in order to reach a specified target. It may not look like much, but Blockly Maze is a wonderful tool to learn problem-solving. Oh, and you’ll get addicted to the satisfying ‘click’ sound when you connect the blocks...
Key Themes for Edutainment 3.0
The success of a gaming application means having people hooked to your application which leads to increased usage.
Peer exchange and healthy competition can be a big motivators to encourage people to go further.
Rapid Feedback Loops
This game design concept can keep users far more engaged than just expecting them to repeat an action over and over again with no feedback or a possible ‘win’.
In Action: Ones to Watch
Beyond Blue is a single-player narrative game that takes you into deep adventures filled with the unbounded mystery that exists within the world’s oceans. You are Mirai, an intrepid oceanographer and deep-sea explorer, and go on a mission under the surface as part of a near-future research team.
You catalog the sea life around Mirai, track the family of sperm whales that drives her focus, and also try to build relationships with her coworkers and family. Beyond Blue engages the player while teaching them something new about the world around them.
An open innovation platform that sits at the intersection of Experiential Learning, Web3, and Brand Marketing. This creative collaboration space combines digital goods, editorial stories, and interactive quests to enable brands and fans to build, learn, and earn together.
Companies can drop unique, timeboxed challenges, using real brand assets and set around a specific theme or pain point relevant to their audience. Participants hone their skills, gain a deeper understanding of how companies operate and get rewarded for their work.
This project, co-founded by games designer and educator Matteo Menapace, focuses on a Wicked Problem - climate change.
In Daybreak, each player controls a world power, deploying policies and technologies to break the cycle of global heating and build safe, resilient societies. If the global temperature gets too high, or if too many people are put in danger, everyone loses. But if you work together to draw down global emissions to net zero, you win!
Guidelines for Greatness
Be clear about the goals of the game. A gamified experience should have one clear goal, not two or three. This simplicity will result in clear dynamics, increased engagement, and a higher probability of achieving learning outcomes.
You need to be clear about each role involved in a game to define dynamics, expectations, and instructions.
Think about the elements that give life to a gamified experience and design accordingly. Head back to Scene 2 of Act 1 for a handy framework you can use.
LXPs level up
For companies, a new wave of Learning Experience Platforms (LXP) offers the opportunity to create challenges, roleplay scenarios, and leaderboards. This, along with rewards, helps incentivize a culture of learning, mastery, and friendly competition. Connect the process of learning and mastery as the reward by linking it to professional development opportunities for the player.
Grow your own
A slew of open source tools and guides are opening up game design to more people. It’s never been easier to spin up a prototype.
Culture, values, and customs
This can influence what a game looks like. Even “universal” games have cultural flaws. So take note of cultural norms when designing a gamified experience.
When and how does the game finish?
Adjusting and transitioning the experience are important. But so is knowing when the game has lost its appeal and usefulness. Be mindful of the endgame so you can entice players to participate in the gamified experience later on.
Beware The Hook
We want people to play the games we create. But what we don’t want is for them to get hooked in the wrong ways. Games should feel compelling and rewarding, but not at the cost of someone’s wellbeing. This is one of the big issues facing the Play to Earn movement, which we dive into in one of our Emerging Trends.
Spark Your Creativity
Ideas to jumpstart your imagination and help you include Edutainment 3.0 in your endeavors.
- Which games did you most love to play as a kid? What made them so appealing?
- Invert your thinking. Which elements of your project definitely should not be a game? Why not?