Where can I learn about game mechanics

2. Concept: Bringing playing and learning together


An iterative design cycle is followed in game development. That means you repeat different development phases over and over again in order to gradually finish the game.

There are different ways of developing a game. It is helpful to sketch out the first ideas for a game quickly and very roughly in order to then quickly create a simple prototype with which the game idea can be tested.

When developing games for learning, it is also important to coordinate the didactic focus with the game concept at an early stage. In any case, it makes sense to think about the connection with the didactic design from the very first sketch and to keep it in mind.

You can always come back to this first concept in the further development process; it is revised in that aspects are worked out more precisely, changed or even discarded again. In the next iteration phase, you build on these revised conceptual considerations again.

Once the learning goal of the game has been determined (e.g. promoting motor skills or repeating conjugation forms), the iterative procedure primarily refers to the revision of the gameplay - i.e. what happens in the game and what you can doDepending on whether it is an analog or a digital game, and depending on the progress of the game development, the focus is on changes to the concept, the rules or the prototype based on the feedback from the test games. Further information on prototyping and test games will follow in theme weeks 3 and 4.

If the prototype is rated positively in a sufficient number of diverse (target group-specific) playgroups, the point has been reached, e.g. to publish the game as an OER or to present it to a publisher.

In this course unit you will receive further input on the essential didactic requirement fields as well as on some options that you can choose for the individual game aspects.

1. Inputs

A - The “Game Design Document” as a starting point

The Game Design Document (GDD) is a good starting point for documenting your design decisions at the same time and making it easier to revise them later. You decide for yourself what such documentation looks like. Here you can download a template that you can use directly to process the conceptual steps discussed here:

B - Didactic framework

Many so-calleddidactic conditions significantly influence the design decisions in the development of educational games. Therefore, it is worthwhile to analyze them right at the beginning: In addition to the basic question of what the general educational issue behind your learning game is, you can usually also record some central details:

  • with regard to the framework in which learning takes place: e.g. in the lecture hall, classroom, youth group; what conditions, possibilities but also restrictions does the framework offer for the game?
  • With regard to the learning content and learning objectives / competencies: Which are central? How can they be operationalized, i.e. described using concrete, observable activities?
  • by taking a close look at your (heterogeneous) target group: What are the predominant gaming experiences? What prior knowledge, what interests and attitudes do the addressed players bring with them?
  • and by considering how the game will be integrated into the class, course, or library or museum visit afterwards.

You will never be able to think about everything in advance - that's not the point either - but as much as possible. If, in the further design process, certain things turn out to be relevant but so far neglected, then these can be included in further iterations in the original conceptual considerations and in the revision of the rules / gameplay and in the design of the prototype.

An example: You have planned a game for 4 players in English class that is to be played in groups of 4 in regular classes. As a central learning objective, certain English expressions should be used to describe images in conversation, i.e. they should be pronounced. Therefore, speaking out loud in English is part of your intended central game mechanics: The players * have to describe a picture on a playing card.

Your play tests now show, however, that the volume level is much too high when all groups are playing in the closed classroom at the same time. You simply did not consider that at the beginning of the game development, in the conception phase.

The game concept must now be adapted accordingly, for example by not all players speaking at the same time, changing the number of players or groups, making the volume level part of the game and speaking softly relevant to the game ... there are endless possibilities for your original concept or in the case of analog games, you can now revise the rules of the game and / or your prototype.

C - game development / game design

When it comes to the design of learning opportunities, there are also the didactic ones mentionedConditionalfields also didacticDecisionfields. You decide which methods and media should be used to learn and how the learning offer is structured or how the lessons or teaching are organized and run.

You make many of these decisions (also) when developing your game, because there you pretendWhat the game endshow can do in the gamewith which Materials and components they do (media) andhow the whole thing is organized (rules / gameplay). You then make further didactic decisions outside of the game, for example when it comes to integrating the game into your learning scenario.

Depending on where you start developing the game (see point 3. Let's go! In the last course unit), different aspects are in the foreground. The six that we assume here in the course are listed again here:

If you…

D - coordination of didactics and game design

If you have looked at more than one point in the list above, you will have noticed that one thing is always central: the coordination of didactic aspects with those of game design. That is the central challenge in Edu Game Design.

Games as interactive media are always designed so that the players are active themselves. Therefore there is a possibility to use games for learning, to coordinate the playful actions with the operationalized competences to be promoted.

If, for example, the pronunciation of words in a foreign language is to be practiced in the game, then the players in the game must - logically - pronounce individual words or entire sentences aloud.

If, on the other hand, it is a matter of categorizing certain knowledge contents - for example assigning given vocabulary according to their syntactic use (verb, adjective, preposition, ...) - then the game must be about activities such as categorizing and assigning, e.g. by collecting vocabulary of a part of speech .

In any case, a game should be designed “to the point”, that is, target-oriented towards the corresponding competence or the learning objective. The players should not have to deal with things that can represent a hurdle for the learning process, such as complicated rules, superfluous victory points or thematic content that is unnecessary. Of course there is no absolute measure, and many things that may seem unnecessary from one (didactic) perspective are absolutely helpful from the other (playful) perspective, e.g. because they are fun to play (and ultimately also serve the learning process) . Precise weighing and thoughtful decisions are required.

You should also pay attention to the following:

  • Do the selected game aspects match the didactic requirement fields?
  • How are the technical content reflected by the materials / components?
  • Are the game goals or challenges in the game getting in the way of learning?
  • Are things made unnecessarily complicated?
  • Do the game processes do justice to the subject matter?
  • Can it be ensured that they do not create an unnecessary cognitive burden, since one has to learn the rules of the game in addition to the learning content and is thus possibly overwhelmed?
  • Has the playing field or room been chosen appropriately?

Ultimately, it is crucial whether you succeed in developing an appealing gaming experience for your target group (Schell, 2015). Therefore, the feedback from the players that they can give you in playtests is essential (more on this in topic week 4). Your individual experience gives you important hints as to which aspects you should still revise in the game or in which respect your original conceptual considerations are still immature.

This applies in particular to aspects that are often not so in the foreground in didactic design alone, e.g. challenge, fun, immersive player life, a meaningful game world and interesting actions in the game as well as dramatic aspects, i.e. everything that creates tension and the players, so to speak grabs and carries you away (characters, story, etc).

Also, whether game materials may have a “toy character” that implicitly prompts the players to interact creatively with the game materials (e.g. because they can be stacked, sorted, plugged or assembled) and thus can be used, for example, for discovery learning or creative learning tasks, can ultimately only be explored by testing with prototypes.

2nd examplee for OER games

For this course we have created a list of games that have been published as Open Educational Resources on the World Wide Web and can therefore be changed and adapted. The games can serve as examples and suggestions for your own work. Maybe there is even a game that can be used directly in your own professional context over the next few weeks:

List of OER games

The list is certainly not exhaustive. If you know of other games that are under an open license that allows use and modification, you are welcome to add the games to the list.

3. Let's go!

Here are some ideas that should make it easier for you to develop your own educational game.

  1. View your game design document. Have you considered the essential didactic requirement fields?
  2. Take a look at your learning goals on the one hand and the game mechanics on the other. Are they well coordinated? Do the related activities match (see point D above)?
  3. Checks whether your further design decisions (e.g. which game materials, game objective, playing field / space you have planned) match the other didactic conditions (e.g. target group and learning content).

4. Tasks

  1. If you haven't started yet, create - alone or with other participants - a Game Design Document (GDD) with initial ideas. You can develop your own format or use the template above.
  2. As described above, make sure that didactic and playful aspects are coordinated.
  3. Formulate your ideas in the GDD in bullet points in such a way that others can understand them without any explanation.
  4. Share your GDD in Discord (in the Game Jam group, for registered participants) and ask the other jammers for feedback.
  5. Give your own feedback: highlight strengths that you see; give (constructive) tips on what could be improved / done differently; name dangers and weaknesses if you see them.

Link to the previous course unit: Basic knowledge in Edu Game Design

Link to the next course unit: Create prototypes


Institute of Play (2018):TeacherQuest, [online] Link no longer available.

Kerres, M. (2018): Media didactics. Conception and development of digital learning opportunities, 5th edition, Oldenburg: De Gruyter.

Schell, J. (2015).The art of game design. A book of lenses(Second edition). Boca Raton: CRC Press.

License course content

The contents of this course are - unless otherwise indicated and unless they are third-party content - under a Creative Commons license. Dissemination and processing with this name: Open Edu Game Design course by Daniel Bernsen and Daniel Behnke, https://gamejam.digital-spielend-lernen.de, CC-BY-SA 4.0
This license only applies to the content on the course pages and not to any other content on this website.