The Learning Game Continuum
What do you picture when you think of Learning Games? I found that when I started asking this question when discussing the topic, the answer varied more than I expected.
Answers usually fall into one of the four categories in the graphic: fact drills like Jeopardy clones, Mini Games embedded within a course, a simulation, or a 3D immersive environment. Each is vastly different in terms of scale, expense and application. But I have had discussions that proceeded quite a distance before a clue exposed my mistaken assumption that we were all talking about the same idea of game. The game industry has existed long enough that there is a rich, consistent taxonomy of game types. But these are of limited value for distinguishing learning games because they are mostly classified by the style of gameplay. Learning Games might be a recent, inconsistent addition to that taxonomy: Wikipedia lists “Serious Games” and “Education Games” as separate game genres distinguished by the age of target consumers. Most vendors in the serious game space would provide much more specific definition than “providing real-world lessons.”
I take the ambiguity of classification as a sign that more work is needed to distinguish between learning game types. One attempt (A Taxonomy of Educational Games- O’Brien, Lawless, Schrader, 2010 University of Illinois) assigns educational games into four categories, but they are still classified by gameplay. Sawyer and Smith (2008 seriousgames.org) took on developing a taxonomy covering all game genres in order to create one for Serious Games. However, the subgenre “Training Games” appeared to only contain two types: Single Task and Comprehensive.
Until a more satisfying and popular naming establishes itself, it falls on those of us interested in discussing learning games to be in precise agreement about exactly what game we mean to discuss.