May 12, 2022

Improve your instructional design skills

Teach like a gamer: adapting the instructional design of digital role-playing games


By Carly Finseth
McFarland, 216 pages, $39.95

Every time someone plays a video game, she learns. As Finseth explains in Chapter 1, games include specific components (rules, goals, actions and interactions, feedback, and mechanics) that all need to be taught or are essential to teaching. And when it comes to role-playing games (RPGs) – which feature character customization, branching storylines, and customization of talents and skills – players learn alongside their characters.

Not surprisingly, a life defined by play, learning and teaching inspired Finseth to write Teach like a player. The aim of the book is “to present and discuss how and why role-playing games can be used and analyzed as artefacts of instructional design”. Finseth forms a research-driven case study based on information gathered from three games: Rift, Diablo IIIand Kingdoms of Amalur: Account.

Within these games, the author discovered many RPG mechanics that instructional designers can apply to their work. These include giving learners the opportunity to experience identity as a means of learning; use specific scaffolding and feedback techniques to provide clear goals, explicit information, meaningful feedback, and plenty of opportunities to practice new skills; integrate exploration and discovery into the design of learning; and the interplay between difficulty, rewards, and achievements.

Chapter 7, “How Games Teach Their Players,” pulls together all the research from the book, listing and explaining the instructional design techniques that Finseth discovered. For example, the first subsection explains how RPGs create a cyclical learning model. “When players learn new skills in RPGs, they have the opportunity to learn something new, practice it, apply that knowledge to a specific goal, and then receive feedback on how (or can -be not so well) they achieved the assigned goal,” writes Finseth. She explains in depth the key features of each step, highlighting how an instructional designer or college instructor can incorporate them into a course.

The next chapter, “Role Plays in Instructional Design,” builds on Chapter 7 with rules of thumb to help instructional designers ensure they create game-based learning environments from a solid theoretical basis. This chapter is an excellent resource for someone who prefers to use the book as a reference tool rather than a theoretical guide.

Globally, Teach like a gamer will help readers incorporate new creative thinking into learning design. The entire book will get their minds moving, and its final chapters offer plenty of useful takeaways for instructional designers and other talent development professionals.