This post is from a virtual roundtable on

The taxonomy of games and indeed the distinctions between games and puzzles are important distinctions for understanding research. We need to distinguish the mammals from the fish, even animals from plants, by their properties. I’ve tripped across little-to-nothing myself along the lines of a game taxonomy, and if readers can share schema they’ve found useful along with why that’d be much appreciated and interesting.

I have the luxury of focusing for the last decade on one corner of this map – in-school, supplemental, computer-based math games; blended online/student with bricks/teacher. Even in that corner, there is a wide range of niches for “game software” to fill: diagnostic/assessment. skills practice. personalized practice problems. “real world” problem contexts. with or without teacher role. concept introduction. remediation: adaptive concept/skill re-teaching.

I suggest that in the STEM arena, where understanding complex relationships of ideas, rather than fact memorization alone, are the learning goals, a focus on the following question is in order:    What exactly is happening at the moment (in the game) where the student is learning something new? In other words, aggressively strip away all the non-subject-matter gameplay and identify the learning environment that remains.

Finally I suggest that if the learning environment that remains is an electronic version of conventional instruction, then we are not looking at a game-changer. It can be highly valuable (save time, easier access, more duty cycle, quicker feedback, formative info for teachers) but not transformative. And transformative is possible with games/puzzles. In other words, if our shiny 21st century learning environment, even a highly engaging game, still rests on passive absorption of content (as if watching a lecture) then I say we should not expect transformative results for all students.