Pedagogy Resources

Your guide to better teaching. 

Table of ContentsGlossary

Gaming Mechanics

The constraints and supports which promote play, fairness and engagement. Hopefully. 

What are they?

Game Mechanics can help foster repetitive play, fairness, motivation, exploration, learning, skill building, and focus among other experiences. Many mechanics are inherent to the type of game being played while others are more universal. A good, fun game that engages players will have a variety of game mechanics that are used with purposeful design. Such a design takes into account the abilities and motivations of the player and may even change as a result of game and learning experiences over time.

An example of a mechanic often used in board games is being able to move a variable amount of space based on a probability distribution generated by a pair of dice. If movement was determined by a set amount, much of the outcome of the game would be predetermined and therefore not as interesting to the players. Another example of a game mechanic is a time constraint. Many athletic games are played for a set amount of time which can pressure players to perform well and maximize their team score before the game is over.

In the intersection of gaming mechanics and course design, it is best for instructors to consider how a game will help the player (student) reach the learning objective. The game mechanics that will most align with instruction and assessment strategies are those which encourage training and replayability. Many games provide ways for players to obtain background information and skills needed to overcome a challenge. Most games that are enjoyable throughout multiple play sessions encourage players to re-engage with game content at a deeper level, from a different perspective, or at a higher level of difficulty.

Five Dice. The Platonic Solids. Black dice with white numbers.

Dice, and the random numbers which they produce are a familiar game mechanic. It introduces uncertainty and surprise into games. Clever players use the probability distribution to their advantage in pursuit of their goals.

Research Foundations

Several authors in writing “Mapping learning and game mechanics for serious game analysis” (Arnab et al., 2015) made an effort to note the parallels between successful game design and course building. Their attempt is to facilitate the design of effective learning and assessment experiences.

Jesse Schell writes in The Art of Game Design, that you “must know what your audience likes and does not like. You must know it better than they do.” (Schell, 2015, p116). Extending this to games in educational settings, it is important to consider the abilities and desires of your student audience.

How Can I Use Game Mechanics in My Classroom?

Games can provide a wonderful way to introduce students to complex and chaotic subjects. The successful play experience in an educational game will encourage students to learn, interact and apply skills. The game mechanics selected for a learning experience should align and help support the learning objectives of the activity or the larger course. If the purpose of a game is to teach different methods of interviewing techniques, then it is best to put students in a situation where they need to select particular techniques for certain interview subjects. Allowing the students to retry an interview using a different technique allows them to understand the strengths and weaknesses in each method.

An image of text buttons in two groups. Blue buttons represent learning mechanics, while orange ones represent their corresponding gaming mechanic siblings.

Arnab, et al. have done substantial work in mapping learning mechanics with gaming mechanics in order to help with the analysis of what they call serious games.

How-To Instructions and DIY

Here is a list of Links to “How To” Instructions:

Considerations for Online Instruction

  • Online classes have the challenge of students being separated by distance. Game play must happen in some online space. This space must be able to accommodate distance and even asynchronous play.
  • Games should be selected based on the area of your course you want to focus on. Find or design your game for the content, not the content for the sake of the game itself.
  • Students can use a rapid application development platforms to quickly outline a game idea based on mechanics, and your course content.

In Practice

The Journalism 101 online class website, The Haveman Chronicle, is a game based, role-playing, exploration and performance based simulation, where students earn more abilities based on their progress in the course.


Watch: Mastering Game Mechanics