The term “gamification” refers to applying game-like elements in a non-game environment (Cheong, Filippou, & Cheong, 2014). Distinct from but related to the concept of gamification are full-blown, or serious, games that aim to teach something. An early example of this is the Oregon Trail game, which was designed to teach kids about the westward settlement of the United States (Eakin, 30 July 2013). With the proliferation of video games in recent years, many educational games are available. In this post I will talk about how educators and companies have used educational games to teach or train people, and introduce two tools that you can potentially use to develop your own educational games.
Educational Games in Education
One of the most common ways to use games in education is to create a simulation. Teaching using a game or simulation gives students the opportunity to make mistakes and try new approaches without the consequences that they would encounter in the real world (Squire, 2015). Jagger, Siala, and Sloan (2016) used a simulation in an interactive 3D computer game to teach business ethics to college students. The game followed a character named Anna, a marketing manager, who had to confront various ethical dilemmas. The students in this study felt that the game was useful because the scenarios related to real life. They also indicated that they were motivated to stick with the game because of the points and rewards aspect of the game (Jagger et al., 2016). In fact, one of the key reasons to use games in an educational context is to motivate students. For example, one study used a video game called Zeldenrust to teach math concepts to low performing students (ter Vrugte, de Jong, Wouters, Vandercruysse, Elen, & van Oostendorp, 2015). These researchers commented that games are especially appropriate for students with low levels of intrinsic motivation. In this study, many of the students who participated showed significant gains in their understanding of the concepts that were taught. However, those students who lacked basic computational skills did not learn from the game (ter Vrugte et al., 2015). This shows that an educational game needs to be at the appropriate level to build upon the knowledge that students already have.
Another point that ter Vrugte et al. (2015) made was that when students play educational games, they may not realize explicitly that they’re learning. Many of the students in their study were unable to articulate what they had learned when the game was over, even though they had gained the skills. To this point, the researchers indicated that an educational game should not stand alone, but be accompanied by in-class reflection to solidify the learning (ter Vrugte et al., 2015). Similarly, the students in the Jagger et al. (2016) study indicated that the game was a good supplement to the ethics class, but could not substitute for it. This evidence suggest that educational games are good part of a blended learning approach.
Educational Games in the Corporate World
The use of educational games in the corporate world is not much different from the use of games within school environments. For example, Baxter, Holderness Jr., and Wood (2016) used a game called True Office to teach IT students about data security. They also used the game to teach employees at a large multinational bank. The employees in this study indicated that the training they received via the True Office game was more fun and engaging that training that had received previously. However, in a test of the knowledge they gained from the training, those who participated in the True Office game did not score significantly better than individuals who had received no training (Baxter et al., 2016). Perhaps the educational aspects of the True Office game built on the knowledge of college students but were not challenging to working adults. Contrast this with a study in which medical personal were taught with simulations and achieved significant gains (Weinstein, 2016). As with using games in an educational environment, educational games in a corporate environment must be at the appropriate level to build on employees’ existing knowledge.
Developing Educational Games
While some educational games, such as True Office, are commercially available, you might find yourself in a situation where you want to create a custom game. However, creating a custom game is not easy. Video game development takes a great deal of skill. I have identified the following two tools that you can use to develop games:
- Unity 3D
- Game Maker
I will describe how to get started with each of them.
Getting Started with Unity 3D
Unity 3D that is supposed to make game development easier and could theoretically be used to develop educational games. However, my short experience with Unity 3D is that some computer programming knowledge is required. It’s not for the novice. Nevertheless, I will discuss how to get started with Unity 3D. You can use Unity 3D for free if you’re just learning about it and using it for your own non-commercial purposes. But if you’re part of a company that makes money, you need to pay for it.
Installing Unity 3D
The first thing to do is to install Unity. This takes a lot of disk space and a lot of time.
- Go to the Unity site at https://unity3D.com and click the Get Unity now You’re taken to the Unity Store.
- Click the button for the plan you want. Since I’m a beginner at this point, I clicked the Download now button in the Personal section.
- Review the system requirements to make sure you meet them and then click the Download Installer button.
- The downloaded file will appear in a different place depending on your browser. I used Google Chrome. After the file finishes downloading, open or run it.
- The Unit Download Assistant opens up. Click Next on the next several screens as you move through the installer. Eventually, the program will start installing.
- Now you wait for a long time. A really long time.
- After a while it started installing Visual Studio as well. Visual Studio is the code editor you use while developing games in Unity.
- Finally the installation finishes, but you’ve got to reboot your computer. Select Reboot now and click Finish.
Creating a Unity Account
Before you use Unity for the first time, you need to create a Unity account. You’ve just rebooted after installing Unity and now you have a Unity shortcut on your desktop.
- Double-click the Unity shortcut on your desktop.
- Since this is your first time and you don’t have an account already, click the create one link to start the process of creating a new account.
- A webpage opens. Fill out the form and click the Create a Unity ID button at the bottom of the page.
- You are sent a confirmation email. Go to the email and click the Link to confirm email. You’ll get a message that your email has been confirmed. Close this page and return to the previous page.
- On the page that notified you about the email confirmation, since you’ve already confirmed your email, click the Continue button.
- You’re taken to your account settings. You don’t really need to do anything here. Now you’ve finished creating your Unity ID and ready to start using the program.
Running Unity 3D
The first time you start Unity, you need to sign in. When you open Unity subsequently, you are presented with a list of your existing projects and are already signed in. You can click a project to continue working on or start a new project. In this procedure, we’ll go through signing on for the first time.
- Launch Unity from your desktop again, enter your sign in information, and click the Sign In button.
- Indicate the type of license you’re using. Since I’m just beginning and I want the free version of Unity, I selected Unity Personal. Click Next.
- Unity asks you about your license again. They really want to make sure you’re not using the free version when you’re not entitled to. Again, I’m just doing this for fun and learning at this point, so I selected the last option. Click Next.
- I had to fill out a short survey about where I’m from and what I was using Unity for.
- When you’re done with the survey, click the Start Using Unity button.
- You can’t do anything in Unity without a project, so click the New project button.
- Specify the name and location for your project, indicate whether it is a 3D or 2D project, and click the Create a project button.
- The new project opens. You’re ready to start developing. But you’re going to need some training to get started. It’s time to learn more about Unity 3D.
Learn More about Unity 3D
Unity 3D offers a variety of tutorials to get you started. You can find these tutorials at https://unity3d.com/learn/tutorials.
I started with the Roll-a-ball tutorial. It’s supposed to teach me some basic things about how to use Unity.
Unity 3D also offers tutorials by topic.
If you’re serious about learning how to use Unity 3D, you can purchase courseware from them at https://certification.unity.com/courseware?_ga=1.32176766.1717869210.1479268569.
They also have documentation available at https://docs.unity3d.com/Manual/index.html?_ga=1.32176766.1717869210.1479268569.
Finally, they have a user community where you can get tips and answers from Unity experts at https://unity3d.com/community.
The biggest things I’ve learned in my short experience with Unity 3D is that you need to learn how to program in C# in order to develop games in Unity. The Roll-a-ball tutorial steps through writing the C# code you need for that game, but if you wanted to branch out on my own, you would definitely need to learn C#. The following resources are available for learning C#:
- C# Fundamentals for Absolute Beginners from Microsoft Virtual Academy, available at https://mva.microsoft.com/en-US/training-courses/c-fundamentals-for-absolute-beginners-16169?l=Lvld4EQIC_2706218949
- org offers free C# training at http://www.learncs.org/
- SoloLearn also offers free C# training at https://www.sololearn.com/Course/CSharp/
Getting Started with GameMaker: Studio
Another option for developing games is GameMaker: Studio by YoYo Games. Their website claims that you can develop games in GameMaker: Studio without writing any code, which makes GameMaker easier to use than Unity 3D if you’re not a software developer. You can use GameMaker: Studio for free or you can pay some money to get more features.
Installing GameMaker: Studio
We’ll start by installing GameMaker: Studio.
- Go to http://www.yoyogames.com/gamemaker, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and then click on Game Maker: Studio under the Download heading to start downloading the installation package.
- When the download is finished, open or run the installation package.
- Click the I Agree button to agree to the license agreement.
- Click Next after selecting the components to install. In this example, I’ve chosen to install both shortcuts on the Start menu and a separate program called GameMaker: Player.
- To start the installation of GameMaker: Studio, click the Install button and proceed through the installation screens.
- When the installation process is done, check the box to start GameMaker: Studio and click the Finish button.
- GameMaker: Studio starts, but since this is the first time launching it, you need to create an account. Click the Register button in the Create Account area.
- A web page opens. Complete the options under I REGISTER on the right side of the page and click the Register The system sends you an email.
- Sign in to your email and click the link in the email to create a password.
- A web page opepns. Enter a password of your choice twice and click the Set Password You’re taken to the license page.
- Click the link near the bottom of the page to Get a free GameMaker: Studio license button.
- The system generates a License key. Copy this license key to your clipboard and return to the GameMaker: Studio program.
- Paste your license key into the License Key field under Studio License and click the LICENSE button.
- GameMaker: Studio opens. You’ve already created your account and got your license key, so you’re ready to get started.
Learn More about GameMaker: Studio
YoYo games offers several video tutorials to get you started using GameMaker: Studio. I went through the one called GameMaker Basics and learned about rooms, backgrounds, sprites, and objects.
They have more tutorials that involve building games.
These tutorial videos are all available at https://www.yoyogames.com/learn.
In addition, the first tutorial that I went through talked about writing code, which I believe is written in something called Game Maker Language (GML). Apparently you can get a long way in GameMaker: Studio without writing code, but the presenter in this video recommended learning how to write code. You can find documentation on GML in the reference section of the documentation (https://docs.yoyogames.com/).
In addition, a variety of resources are available to help you learn GML. Here are a few of them:
- Game Maker Language Tutorials and Examples, available at http://www.gamemakerlanguage.herobo.com/gmltutorial.php?page=begtut1
- Udemy provides a course in Game Maker Language, available at https://www.udemy.com/learn-to-code-in-game-maker-language/
- There’s also a wiki about Game Maker Programming, available at https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Game_Maker_Programming
Baxter, R. J., Holderness Jr., D. K., & Wood, D. A. (2016). Applying basic gamification techniques to IT compliance training: Evidence from the lab and field. Journal of Information Systems, 30(3), 119-133. doi:10.2308/isys-51341
Cheong, C., Filippou, J., & Cheong, F. (2014). Towards the gamification of learning: Investigating student perceptions of game elements. Journal of Information Systems Education, 25(3), 233-244.
Eakin, M. (30 July 2013). Read this: A detailed history of the genesis and development of The Oregon Trail. Retrieved from http://www.avclub.com/article/read-this-a-detailed-history-of-the-genesis-and-de-100952
Jagger, S., Siala, H., & Sloan, D. (2016). It’s all in the game: A 3D learning model for business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 137(2), 383-403. doi:10.1007/s10551-015-2557-9
Squire, K. (2015). Creating the future of games and learning. Independent School, 74(2),
ter Vrugte, J., de Jong, T., Wouters, P., Vandercruysse, S., Elen, J., & van Oostendorp, H. (2015). When a game supports prevocational math education but integrated reflection does not. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 31(5), 462-480.
Weinstein, M. (2016). Are you game for learning?. Training, 53(5), 44-47.