TOWARD A GAME PEDAGOGY
A successful learning game is based on the functionality of the game itself and
the game factors that make learning possible via gaming. The ﬁrst is especially
examined in game design activity. Lankoski (2014) and Järvinen (2008) mention
that solutions connected with a game environment and functionalities of the
game, implementation of game states, a visuality and view of the game, and a
sensible use of game mechanics are critical factors for a working game (cf Kapp,
2012 and Kapp et al, 2014).
The game environment means e.g. a ﬁeld as in soccer, game board, game world
or more or less undeﬁned environments like milieus for construction and
geocaching. The functionalities or actions of the game are for instance shooting,
hiding and driving. The game states refer to the status and value of different
game elements at a speciﬁc moment, and before and after it. The game
elements are formed by players and different activity modes and environments in
which the playing takes place. The game view connected with visuality means
the viewpoint a player has toward a game, and how it changes during the game
run. The view can be partial, i.e. the view does not tell everything about what is
happening in the game, or it can be perfect, i.e. (an experienced) player can
perceive all elements and the actual status of the game by a glance. The game
mechanics include different levels, results, points, rewards and badges and time
constituents and their connection to the running and playing of the game. Also
larger activities than the actual playing are contained in game mechanics. For
instance, larger activities in the game could include territorial acquisition,
resource management like building, collection, and survival. A narration or story
inside the game is the largest activity mode to be included in game mechanics
(Kapp et al, 2014).
Game factors that especially enable learning are motivation and feedback (Kapp,
2012; Knowledge Guru, 2014). At best this success can be seen and felt in an
experience of ﬂow. Then the playing is experienced as challenging, but still
possible. The player is fully immersed in the game, playing is self-controlled and
free and the goal of the game is totally clear. In the ﬂow experience the playing
itself gives immediate feedback, while the sense of time and self consciousness
lessens to be reinforced again after the ﬂow experience. The playing and the ﬂow
experience intersect, but they are not equal. To put it another way, while playing
one can have ﬂow experiences, but they do not go on for the whole playing
period (Cowley et al., 2008; Kiili et al., 2012).
Chou (2014) deﬁnes the factors of a successful game as an experience of
meaning, addictive empowerment, supportive social inﬂuence, unpredictability
(which invites us to continue), avoidance of risks and achievements, scarcity
(which means that one has to wait or do something more to receive something),
feeling of ownership, and the accomplishment of overcoming challenges. These
components can be seen as important factors in a successful learning game
Boyd (2014) examines the behavior of teens in social media, and in that
connection takes up four affordances (Gibson,1982; Ihanainen,1992), which
essentially constitute the performances of teens in social media mediated
networked publics. They are
persistence: the durability of online expressions and content,
visibility: the potential audience who can bear witness,
spreadability: the ease with which content can be shared, and
searchability: the ability to ﬁnd content.
Boyd´s affordances can be connected with learning and playing, and inspired by
them the affordance viewpoint will be utilized in examining factors of the
successful learning game.
The success of games is explained by the addictiveness. The addiction is
connected with motivation, and emotions are important energies in it. In the end
the feedback is a motivating factor as well. When developing learning games,
the questions we should be asking are what are addictive emotions and how they
can be connected with or how are they connected to learning games and gaming
as a learning activity?
Why play learning games?
Formal education and instruction wants to make use of learning games to better
achieve goals set up by the educational system and the learning of curricular
contents. Schools and teachers want to include learning games in their
pedagogical arsenal because they represent crucial entertainment activity in all
age groups. For that the role of playing and gaming is more strongly recognized
as an important element of learning.
On the other hand, learning games can be examined from the point of view of
informal learning: some relevant knowledge and skills are always learned via
playing games. From the perspective of formal instruction the question is how
game learning and know-how is recognized and validated.
From a game genre perspective, the reason why we play learning games is
because they are fun. Gaming is addictive idleness to rest and attune, and to
learn something simultaneously. Can purposeful learning and hilarity be
combined? The background presented in the prior sections develops a
foundation for searching for a new perspective to learning games.
What would get me into a learning game? First taking easy notice of the game
and then taking part in it without undue hassles would make it rather easy and
tempting. The game should be an answer to some ephemeral dot like impulse of
mine. Or the game should be seen as a response to achieving some goal. It
should be possible to jump into the game by a simple perceptual-understanding-
active way, i.e. when I for instance see the game or a message refering to it, I
quickly understand what I can and have to do to play the game. If the beginning
of the game is not intuitive, it will lose my interest.
I begin to play a learning game when engaging it is simple enough and the game
satisﬁes my immediate or more long term emotional needs. Together with this
coming along is also a momentary (or ﬁnal) feeling that going away is possible -
”it is quite okay to jump occasionally away - I can come back later” or ”I got what I
expected and ﬁnishing is ﬁne”.
The going away can as well mean the opposite of coming along in a sense that
the game does not entice me to play despite its original promise. Something in
the game is rejecting or feared. From the point of view of developing a good
learning game this means that elements of rejection and fear need to be
anticipated, and inviting, participatory, and encouraging elements need to be
When the learning game has attracted me to take part, an inner motivation is
connected to what one can by herself give to the game, and what she can
receive for herself. The giving implies the distribution of some experience,
knowledge, act or artefect (sound, image, movement, text, etc.) to others.
Accordingly, they can be generating or gathering content for the giver: an
adventure, new knowledge, a procedure or a content product.
Two gaming experiences are needed to continue playing. They are meaning for
the player and self-expression. The experience of meaningfulness joined with
receiving is connected with immediate (subconscious) need satisfaction, while
meaningfulness as such is a deeper experience. It for instance means that a
player feels empowerment in self-regulation and reverence, that she by playing
seems to become something special. All these strengthen self-esteem; they
allow players to be someone.
The self-expression is of course a part of meaningfulness, but speciﬁcally it
means that a player can perform acts through which she becomes and will stay
(at least for a while) visible and experientable. It is not a question of single game
acts, e.g. sharing of own photos or other chips, but a mirroring of one´s
personality as perceivable in game environments and activities via separate
Coming to play, playing and becoming someone via gaming are necessary
factors as game elements and events in a successful learning game, but they are
not enough. In the learning game effectiveness is needed in terms of learning.
Naturally points, badges, and progress are supportive outcomes as well, but in
the learning game the effectiveness means an overall experience. Most of all it is
becoming aware of learning: ”I learned this knowledge, skill and/or attitude.” (For
instance, I learned to move in city X (streets, buildings, trafﬁc, and statues as
pieces of knowledge, moving my body spatially as a skill, and seeing the city as
an aesthetic entity as an attitude).
A deﬁnition of effectiveness as an essential feature of the learning game makes it
possible to see artiﬁcial pedagogical activity, which should be avoided in the
design of learning games. If it is set as the direct demand of effectiveness of
learning results in learning games, this kind of critique might be valid. In the
game genre the effectivity of learning has to be approached inversely. Effective
learning occurs through failures. It is not important to pay attention to achieving
learning outcomes, but how failures are valued. In the successful learning game
the effectiveness is received by noticing failures (i.e. opportunities) and
transitions from errors to next steps and acts in a positive and fun way.
The above described factors inﬂuence the background of the learning game.
They can be named as four need dimensions: coming along -going away, giving-
receiving, meaningfulness-self-expression and effectiveness-failure. These
dimensions orient an affordance character of the successful learning game. The
deﬁning affordances of a good learning game are joinability, shareability,
ownership and successfulness.
Affordance structure of the learning game
A working learning game is an entity, which is characterized by joinability,
shareability, ownership and successfulness. They together form an affordance
structure of the learning game. Affordance means a perceptual-functional quality
or feature of a thing/object, a space/place and/or an event, e.g. attributes of the
learning game. It is a question to what this something perceptiveness and
functionality, in this case the learning game, invites. Emotional factors are
included in it; for instance, perceptual-functional joinability is loaded by emotions
as well. Next the affordance structure of the learning game is examined in more
The joinability of the learning game is connected with how a game opens up to
an experiencing, potential player (learner) as an interesting and willing thing.
How the interest and desirability express themselves as perceptual (visual, aural,
and haptic) factors and functional (motoric and cognitive-intentional) touches?
The joinability arises emotions like curiosity, invitedness and encouragement. If
the game awakes more rejecting and fear than feelings mentioned above, it does
not afford joining.
In terms of game design it is still important to consider these sorts of counter
emotions, i.e. how the game takes into account that it does not awake rejection
and fear when encountered for the ﬁrst time. Of course sometimes the fear (and
overcoming it) and the like can be an inviting and seducing emotion as well.
The shareability of the learning game is connected with how a game appears to a
player as that kind of that the player is willing to produce something (knowledge,
artefacts, performances) for others and also to give these productions to them.
Correspondingly, the player wants to get them from others to herself. How this
giving and receiving is expressed as perceptual-functional features of the game
tells about the affordance quality of the game. Emotions embedded in sharability
are openness, conﬁdence and the like. They invite the player to give and receive.
The counter emotions inside the sharability are hiding and envy. It is important to
see their role in the game design so that they do not begin to have negative
impacts for gaming.
The joinability and sharability are communal affordances of the learning game.
Ownership and successfulness are more individual. But naturally they include
social elements as well.
The ownership of the learning game is connected with how a player ﬁnds the
game and gaming to belong to herself. The ownership is born from experiences
and feelings to possess the game, i.e. to have a feeling that the game is ”her
issue”. They are certain game contents and performances, and it is important to
realize what emotions carry them. Freedom and autonomy can be seen as
essential ownership emotions. If a player does not have power and control over
her playing, the game cannot become ”her issue”. In game design it is crucial to
determine the role of freedom and independence related to game rules and
The successfulness is an effectivity affordance of the learning game. A playing of
the learning game means actions in game environments and through gaming
functionalities, and outcomes achieved by gaming. In the learning game these
actions and outcomes should be effective according to learning of something. In
the affordance of successfulness it is the question how playing as perceptual-
functional touches, artefacts and emotions brings forth (conscious) learning
experiences. As emotions, this refers to feelings like satisfaction, joy and fun.
Complacency, in particular, is a characterizing feeling of successfulness. In game
design an inﬂuence of dissatisfaction and disappointment for the successfulness
affordance has also to take into account. As emotions they weaken the success
unless - via valuing and rewarding of failures - discontent and frustration cannot
be enriched as well-being, neat and pleasurable.
Learning game as an affordance entity
A core of the learning game is in its affordance quality, i.e. how it responses to
joinability, sharability, ownership and successfulness and the emotions immersed
in them. How is a learning game experienced as tempting, open, own-able,
controllable, and essential?
These crystallized affordance qualities of the learning game have to come true in
perceptual and functional factors of the game, which are constituted by the game
environment, states and views, motoric and cognitive-emotional motivation,
feedback, ﬂow procedures and concrete makings. This can be presented as a
Figure 1. Learning game as an affordance
A good and working learning game is immersive. It hooks people to start and play
a game. It addicts the ego; in other words, it produces an experience of ”one´s
own issue”. And still, the good learning game temps us to learn. What is this
addiction? In Figure One, functionality was deﬁned as the affordance core of the
learning game. By emotion language, it can be said to be the addiction.
Immersion is an emotion which takes hold, but which also generates
performances and outcomes, too.
The immersion means that an object, place and/or activity draws attention, keeps
embedded and rewards. As mentioned before, the affordance quality of the
learning game addiction (functionality) was connected to the emotional qualities
of temptation (joinability), openness (sharability), ownership and essentiality
(successfulness). The addiction is in stages and simultaneously tempting, open,
own-able and essential.
When the learning game is tempting, it awakes curiosity and seduces. It is as
well easy and desirable enough. When the learning game is open, it cannot be
experienced as hiding or secret. It is interesting and the playing of it is felt
permissive and tolerant, but at the same time suspenseful. When the learning
game is felt to be owned, the gaming is experienced as autonomous and self-
controlled. It is ﬂowing and free. When the learning game is experienced
essentially it is concurrently effective and teaching. Satisfaction and gratiﬁcation
arise from the game. Once the learning game is designed and assessed, one
has to think over and examine what the addiction means as game and gaming
elements and factors for producing motivation, feedback and ﬂowing processes.
Tempting and open as emotional qualities are more social and communal
compared with the emotional qualities of ownership and essentiality, which are
more separate and individual. Together tempting, open, own and essential
emotion qualities constitute the communal-individual emotion ﬁeld of addiction of
the learning game. Järvinen (2008) deﬁnes the emotional ﬁeld of gaming as
suspense. It is composed via the dynamics of hope, fear and uncertainty related
to conﬁrmation and disconﬁrmation of gaming goals. The suspense can be seen
to be connected with the interplay of communal and individual emotion energies
inside the affordance structure of the learning game, especially with affordances
of sharability and ownership.
On the way to research tasks
The dynamics of the learning game are examined above on the basis of needs
and affordances including emotions. Based on this, the investigation of learning
and pedagogy contexts of existing learning games, and the ﬁguring out of
features, which are important in developing learning games, will now be named
as research tasks for the study at hand.
Answers to these questions open visible a challenge for teachers to apply
learning games in instruction. How can the teacher work as a constructor of the
learning environment in the context of learning games? How can she support
and challenge (i.e. facilitate) learning when playing learning games? How can
the teacher become a learning peer (player) inside learning games?
The next ﬁgure will open the dynamics of the learning game as research tasks.
The functional, working and learning game takes into account the need of
playing, is aware of the driving affordances, and relies on emotions to carry the
Figure 2. Research tasks
Boyd, Danah. 2014. It´s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.
Chou Y-K. 2013. Octalysis: Complete Gamiﬁcation Framework.
gamiﬁcation-framework (refered 13.3.2014)
Cowley, B., Charles, D. Black, M., and Hickey, R. 2008. Toward an understanding
of ﬂow in video games. http://www.idemployee.id.tue.nl/g.w.m.rauterberg/amme/
cowley-et-al-2008.pdf (refered 13.3.2014)
Gibson, J. 1982 a. Notes on Affordances. Teoksessa Reed, E., Jones, R., (Ed.)
Reasons for Realism. Selected Essays of James J. Gibson. Hillsdale, N.J.: LEA.
Ihanainen, P. 1992. Uusi käsite psykologiaan (A new concept for psychology).
Psykologia 1/1992, 49-54.
Järvinen, A. 2008. Games without Frontiers: Theories and Methods for Game
Studies and Design. University of Tampere.
Kapp, K., 2012. The Gamiﬁcation of Learning and Instruction: Game-Based
Methods and Strategies for Training and Education. San Francisco, CA: John
Wiley & Sons.
Kapp, K., Blair, L., Mesch, R., 2014. The Gamiﬁcation of Learning and
Instruction Fieldbook. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
Kiili, K., de Freitas, S., Arnab, S., & Lainema, T., 2012. The Design Principles for
Flow Experience in Educational Games. Procedia Computer Science, 15, 78–91.
m a i n . p d f ? _ t i d = 7 1 4 6 9 8 8 2 - a a 2 f - 1 1 e 3 -
c (refered 13.3.2014)
Knowledge guru, 2014. http://www.theknowledgeguru.com (refered 13.3.2014)
Lankoski, P. 2014. Game System Design. http://www.slideshare.net/lankoski/
game-system-design (refered 13.3.2014)